We reached the suburbs of Chongqing in the early afternoon, after which moved towards the city central at snail-pace, for Chongqing, the Mountain City ("Shangcheng", as it is nicknamed by the locals) is full of narrow turning roads, which are jammed with traffic almost the whole day round. The traffic jams I witnessed in Chengdu were nothing compared to those of Chongqing. On the high cliffs above Changjiang, we passed the Great Changjiang Bridge where two typical Socialist realist-style statues stood. Near the city central, we proceeded northwards across the Jialingjiang to Jiangbei ("North-of-the-river") District, so as to meet my hosts in Chongqing, which were a related company of my Chengdu hosts. From there, more briefings, hand-shaking, namecard-exchanging and so on.
With 3 more persons from my Chongqing hosts, together with Xiao Zhu, I was brought on a car-ride around Chongqing. We crossed the river and were back to the city central again. Chongqing was originally built on a steep mountainous peninsula at the confluence of Changjiang and Jialingjiang rivers (from where it expanded to south of the Changjiang and north of the Jialingjiang). Most streets are narrow and they slope downwards. Thus, Chongqing must be one of the few large cities in China where one don’t come across a bicycle often. The lack of open space means that buildings here have to be multistoried, much more here than in Chengdu. The tall buildings, together with the mountainous setting, traffic jams and neon lights, made this city look a little like Hong Kong. In addition, girls here appeared to dress more fashionably than in Chengdu - not surprising as this has always been the commercial capital of Sichuan (although the people of Chengdu may disagree with this !) We spent the evening visiting shopping centres and bookshops, and had, of course (and yet), a sumptuous meal at a top restaurant in town. I wanted to see Changjiang from a high point, and so my hosts brought me to a park where I was supposed to be able to see the Changjiang and the Chaotianmen docks, where the Changjiang and Jialingjiang meets. However, it rained very heavily, so heavy that neither could be seen. The client was so hospitable that they even brought me to Chaotianmen itself, despite the heavy rain... Such was their hospitality.
Revolutionary Sites in Chongqing : Real pilgrims ?
The second day we set off early, so as to get to Chongqing’s western suburbs, to visit the city’s most famous attractions - Red Crag Village (Hongyan Cun) and Gele Hill. Both are sites related to the Communist Party’s struggle against Kuomintang. It seems that Chongqing’s city centre has little to offer to the international tourists apart from these (but of course, these sites remain de rigour pilgrimage sites for visiting foreign communist dignitaries, say, those from North Korea and Cuba, I supposed). Chongqing is essentially a transit point to visit areas like Dazu (which is part of the Chongqing Municipality) and the Three Gorges area (which will soon be part of Chongqing Municipality).
The Red Crag Village was the Chongqing base of the South China Bureau of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) Central Committee, as well as the office of the Eight Route Army from 1939 to 1946, during the period of official co-operation between the CCP and Kuomintang. This was a period of uneasy truce between the two parties, so as to co-operate and defeat the invading Japanese. And so CCP set up office here in Chongqing, the Kuomintang wartime capital, and Zhou Enlai stayed at the Red Crag Village from time to time. The Village was located at the outskirts of the city, and so the air here is cleaner - there is less pollution from the heavy industries and 4 million inhabitants ( - 4m in the urban area and 15m if one includes the surrounding municipality area) of Chongqing. Interesting place, with a museum on the heroic CCP members who represented the CCP in a hostile territory. We met many tourists from other parts of China. During the old days, these might be genuine pilgrims, but do anyone really believe in communism in what is today a pseudo-capitalist economy ? Most of these were probably on a standard package tour, and regulations probably dictate that all such tour groups must include visits to the revolutionary sites in their itinerary.
And yes, another interesting thing I noticed in Chongqing : the promotion of the so-called "Red Crag Spirit". Everywhere in the city I saw posters paying tribute to the Red Crag heroes, and telling people to work hard, to revitalise Chongqing, not to speed when driving, not to overcharge customers, not to misbehave, etc, all in the name of the "Red Crag Spirit". I spoke to a Sichuanese about this, and he said that this is the preferred alternative to belief in religion, which is certainly discouraged by the communists. On the other hand, this is amazing, as I doubt anyone really feel anything to these long dead communist personalities. It will be a miracle if today‘s Chongqing citizens would ever be inspired to work harder in a capitalist manner using communism’s saints.
The next destination was Gele Hill. This is where a number of revolutionary sites are located - the Sino-American Co-operation Organization (SACO), Baigong Guan and Zhazi Dong. These were concentration camps set up by the Kuomintang with the assistance of the US military intelligence. Before the withdrawal of Kuomintang in 1949 from Chongqing, more than 300 of the remaining communists and dissidents here were massacred, along with some of their family members, including babies. The communists have since turned the whole area as a Martyrs’ Memorial park and museum complex, with displays of torture instruments and chambers, and the heroic struggle of the CCP members and sympathisers. Yet another propaganda site but according to guidebooks, the sites have toned down a lot in recent years, in the age of rapprochement with the Americans and Taiwanese. In fact, the SACO was once named the US - Chiang Kai Shek Criminal Acts Exhibition Hall, but has now resumed the more refined name of, ironically, its more notorious days - the Sino-American Co-operation Organization (SACO) - which my hosts joked, must be the first Sino-American joint venture !
After a morning of sightseeing, my Chongqing hosts drove me to the summit of Gele Hill, where a number of restaurants served the famous Lazi Ji, or Chilli Chicken - pieces of chicken served in heaps of dried fried chilli. One has to dig through those heaps to look for the meagre pieces of chicken. The people of Chongqing love it, as I was told, because of the cold and misty weather here, the warmth of consuming such hot food is simply a sensation.
Thereupon, I bid farewell to my Chongqing hosts and returned to Chengdu with Xiao Zhu to catch a flight to Hong Kong that night. But that is another story...