Shaoshan after reform and opening-up

Updated: 2012-08-27 08:05

By Liu Xiangrui in Xiangtan, Hunan (China Daily)

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Shaoshan after reform and opening-up

Mao Zedong's lasting charisma has not only ensured Shaoshan village, where he grew up, has prospered into a popular tourist destination, but also has led to a boom in diverse Mao-themed products.

Today, souvenir stores line the roads in Shaoshan, with their interiors and fronts decorated with the late leader's statues, pictures and badges.

Many tourists and storeowners refuse to bargain for these souvenirs as it seems disrespectful, while many of the Mao-linked products have become famous.

For instance, the Mao-style braised pork dish, a life-long favorite, is now named after him.

It is said that before New China was founded, Mao would celebrate each victory of his army with a serving.

In Shaoshan, the dish appears to have more meaning than elsewhere.

Many locals favor the dish and they present it before Mao's statues, especially on important occasions like his birthday, according to villager Mao Xinhui, 42, who runs two small restaurants.

Nearly every restaurant in Shaoshan, from small home restaurants to large hotel canteens, makes the same dish as their signature specialty.

"I'm willing to try the dish because I'm curious about what Chairman Mao's favorite food tastes like," says 26-year-old Zhang Juyan, a Tianjin tourist who has collected a bunch of Mao-themed souvenirs from badges to car ornaments in her several visits to Shaoshan.

Most of the village's 450 households have started their own restaurants, inns or souvenir shops and earn a decent income from tourists.

"We are the direct beneficiaries of Chairman Mao's charms. So I always select the best ingredients for our dishes so as not to let down Chairman Mao's guests," says Mao Xinhui, who earns about 50,000 yuan ($7,858) a year.

Xu Dabing, a chef at Shaoshan Hotel, has developed the dish into an art.

Becoming a chef at 17, he spent years improving his skills and his signature Mao-style braised pork.

His expertise helped him rise to fame and he has prepared the dish for numerous national and internationally famous figures.

Xu recalls one night when a visitor arrived at the hotel and ordered just a sample of the braised pork prepared by him, without trying anything else.

Later he learned that the guest had flown from the southern city of Guangzhou simply to try the dish, after hearing about it many times on TV and online.

"Then he left very satisfied," Xu recalls.

Before he mastered the dish, he'd often practice at home to improve it.

"My family was always asked to taste my experimental results," he says. "Now they won't eat it at all. And I only prepare the dish for others."

As many villagers became rich through tourism, farmland in Shaoshan became untended.

Liu Guiming, who used to be a plumber and cable technician, earning 20,000 yuan a year, decided to rent about 1.5 hectares of rice paddy fields that used to be owned by Mao's parents, in 2004.

Liu says his family was a close neighbor of Mao, who even gave his father a straw hat and took a photo with him when he returned home.

"My grandfather was a tenant peasant for Chairman Mao's parents. So I felt a special responsibility - I didn't want visitors to see lands in Chairman Mao's home village lying waste," explains the 46-year-old.

Farm work didn't bring much income in the first couple of years. At his friends' suggestion, Liu later named his product "Rice grown in Chairman Mao's ancestral land", and registered it as a trademark. He packed the rice nicely so that tourists could buy it as a gift.

"Sales have soared as the number of tourists has grown in recent years," he explains with a smile. "They always have a special feeling for Chairman Mao when they buy the rice, which is grown in his home village."

Now Liu's rice product has annual sales of 800,000 yuan. The success has allowed him to take on more ambitious plans.

This year he invested 1.2 million yuan in sightseeing agriculture and rented more than 40 hectares land, which he has planted with lotus seeds, rice and sorghum.

"I'm planning to rent all rice fields in the village in the future, and develop a series of products beyond ancestral rice," explains Liu, adding 170 villagers have agreed to join his group.

Feng Zhiwei contributed to the story.

(China Daily 08/27/2012 page20)