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The temple building in Beijing

By Johnny Erling
Ein Bild von Johnny Erling

When you see the anniversary building for the party “from the air”, it immediately reveals a secret. Its construction incorporates the shape of the character gong (工), reveals the Xinhua news agency. Gong is a linguistic shorthand for work, or for the working class, of which the Chinese Communist Party is known to be the forerunner.

Visitors approaching the imposing complex in the north of Beijing by the usual route on foot have a harder time recognizing the proletarian nature of the newly built “Museum of the Communist Party“. They are looking at a “traditional Chinese colonnade structure” with six mighty columns on the north facade and just as many pillars on the south facade. Eight columns each support the two east-west sides. The numbers six and eight also serve as symbols of good luck in Chinese. They express wishes for good fortune, which should accompany the party forever. The building has a total of 28 columns, the same number that the party needed in years after its founding in 1921 to conquer China and proclaim the People’s Republic in 1949.

A building full of symbols

Everything about the new museum is symbolically overloaded. Behind it is the intention of its architects and the master builder advising them, China’s state and party leader Xi Jinping. It is his first signature building. There is also a calculation behind the choice of location in the capital’s Olympic Park. The 150,000-square-meter exhibition hall sits on Beijing’s meridian. This once imperial north-south axis, which has been nominated for Unesco World Heritage status, continues from the Temple of Heaven via Tiananmen Gate, the Gugong Imperial Palace, and the Drum Tower to the present-day Olympic site in the north.

The setting could not be more fitting for a major museum in honor of the party that rules China alone and, after 100 years of existence, is now the largest CP in the world with 92 million members. The imperial address also includes its exclusive postal code “100100”. It stands for the CP’s birthday, Xinhua writes, and also “for its boldly pursued two-century goals.” By 2050, the future 100th birthday of the People’s Republic, the nation is to be resurrected to its former greatness and China is to be a world power.

No expense was too great for Beijing for the museum, which China’s media touted as the capital’s “Hongsi Dibiao” (红色地标), or “red milestone.” “Nearly 50,000 people and more than 200 work units” were involved in the construction from the laying of the foundation stone on August 26, 2018, to its completion in May 2021. The most famous state sculptors sculpted from white marble the five sculpture groups set up around the museum. Hundreds of heroic figures gather around the party flag. Thematically, they are divided, just like the exhibits in the exhibition, according to the CP history, which is divided into four stages. At the beginning is the “belief” in the communist cause (信仰). The final main section is devoted to the present under Xi’s leadership and an auspicious future of his “new era of Chinese socialism.” This stage is called “Following the Dream” (追梦).

The party consecrates a “sacred temple” for itself

The “spirituality” embodied by the museum is intentional. From the outset, Xi called for “dignified and awe-inspiring architecture” in April 2018. Unlike other exhibitions, the Party Museum should “light up the eyes of its viewers.”

Reviewing the construction history, Xinhua writes: “Xi stressed the need to build a sacred temple complex that will become a spiritual home for Communist Party members to be educated here and receive their Communist baptism”(强调要建成一个神圣殿堂,成为共产党员受教育受洗礼的精神家园). The exhibition planning should have encouraged visitors to “always remain true to the Party’s original ideals and mission.” That was the “red line.”

State broadcaster CCTV featured the museum’s opening as the lead story on its main newscast two days in a row, on June 18 and 19. At the inauguration, Party leader Xi had his Politburo, fists raised, recite the Party oath to “fight for communism lifelong.” It was déjà vu after he had already taken the oath publicly in late 2017 when he visited the Shanghai CP Museum. That was shortly after the end of the 19th Party Congress, where he pushed for his “Xi Jinping Thinking for the New Era of Socialism” to be included in the party statutes amended for the purpose.

The price does not matter for the prestige

Soon after, Xi ordered the construction of the Beijing Museum for the 100th anniversary of the founding of the CP in 2018. He made planning, design, and execution a top priority. “Xi attached great importance to the construction of the exhibition hall, planned and supervised it, and received reports and instructions on its progress many times.”

The party is silent about the cost of the project. The block-like monument combines the architectural styles of the Great Hall of the People and the Mao Mausoleum. No wonder. The same “Beijing Architectural Design and Research Institute Co., Ltd.” that once built the columned Great Hall for Mao in 1959 to mark the tenth anniversary of the People’s Republic was commissioned to build the new museum.

There are 50 letters, directives, speech manuscripts, and objects of all kinds from Xi Jinping himself on display. The most valuable exhibit purchased abroad is by Karl Marx, a handwritten notebook used by him in Brussels in 1845. New insights into China’s party are not to be expected at the museum. The CP does not confront its own narrative with the facts. Especially not under Xi, who has condemned critical historical reappraisal and coming to terms with the past as “historical nihilism.” The museum’s construction is part of what the Wall Street Journal called the largest ongoing propaganda and education campaign to rewrite Chinese history since Mao’s time.

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