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Icons of the past, present and future

(Global Times)

08:25, September 06, 2011

Tourists take photos in front of Chairman Mao's renovated residence from 1943 to 1945 in Yan’an. (CFP Photo)

The sun is setting rapidly behind a bank of rolling hills as Zhang Yang gets comfortable on his impossibly tiny stool. He fills his long thin pipe from a dangling pouch of tobacco, before beginning an often told yarn to visitors who have come to share a few days at his ancestral home carved into a hillside.

Zhang's life and home in the countryside of Shaanxi Province is a bridge that connects China’s revered revolutionary past, its current ambitious development and a future that teeters from preserving a way of life to capitalizing on money-making opportunities.

At 51, Zhang is the perfect age to represent all three elements in this once desperately poor county where Chairman Mao encamped for more than a decade after the Long March (1934-36).

Zhang is thin but strong; the picture of perfect middle-age health. His sinewy body has been honed by hard and honest labor maintaining his fields and hillside terraces. He returned to his village with homes scattered around surrounding hillsides after some years as a migrant worker, and this is where he wants to be.

The Global Times and nine other media outlets were invited by the county government to spend a week touring the villages of Wuqi, which is located three hours’ drive from Yan’an, which in turn is one of China’s most historically revered rural cities.

And this is where Zhang’s yarn begins. Speaking in his local dialect, Zhang weaves an unlikely story of how his grandmother served Chairman Mao noodles in mutton soup at her home in the late 1930s.

Zhang says the Chairman gulped down three bowls of his grandmother’s noodles the day before the last battle that ended the Long March. Zhang’s tale is further embellished with the fact that the family didn’t know of their claim to fame until almost 50 years later when some of the original soldiers in Mao’s unit returned to see the old woman’s home and surprised her family with the story that she had served the Chairman his last meal of the Long March.

Throughout the five-day tour the local government provided the Global Times with other, stories and facts of the area’s great progress and plans for a future partially based on tourism. While Zhang was obviously hand-picked, he and his wife were undeniably authentic and extremely gracious hosts.

By Liu Linlin, Global Times

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