Disneyland has "Main Street, USA", a monorail and Mickey Mouse. China's Nanjie village has "East is Red Square", red trams and Mao Zedong. The village has become a big hit with nostalgic Chinese tourists.
Every year, hundreds of thousands of visitors flock to the hamlet in central Henan province which has become an attraction with its idealised vision of village life right out of the Communist past.
The village's 3,700 residents wake up every morning to broadcasts praising Mao and start their work days with a hearty group rendition of "red" songs about the virtues of Communism. Nanjie follows a retro model of collectively-owned enterprises and chirpy ideological indoctrination, appearing frozen in an era before market reforms transformed China into the world's second largest economy.
Tourists take small red trams with names like "Moderate Prosperity" and "Chinese Dream" from the giant Mao statue in the town's iconic "East is Red Square" to parks, factories and public housing blocks where residents share stories about the joys of collectivism. Recently, nostalgia seekers have been replaced by local officials and party members "coming to study the Nanjie spirit," local journalist Lie Xiujuan said as she led visitors on a tour of the village's botanical gardens, which feature a life size replica of Mao's childhood home.
Today, residents live in modest public apartments, identical right down to the furniture and flatscreen TVs. "Everything is managed very well," government employee Wang Chunju said as she sat in her community-provided flat, fidgeting with her iPhone.
But it is hard to tell how much is real and how much is a show for Nanjie's more than 500,000 visitors a year. A weekly newspaper publishes "positive" news alongside Mao quotes and stories. At Nanjie's instant noodle factory, local officials freely admitted to staging "every day" performances of Communist "red" songs for the benefit of visiting reporters.
While officials said tourism makes only a small contribution to Nanjie's economy, its image is an asset that earns it the support of top politicians, as well as the general public. Outside Nanjie's gates, a woman working at a liquor store admiringly explained the village's fascination. "They're real Communists over there," she said with a laugh. "I guess you could say the rest of us are capitalists."