NANCHANG, June 16 (Xinhua) — Ancestral halls in China are usually where people pay tribute to their ancestors during traditional festivals and where they make big decisions within families. But in the province of Jiangxi in eastern China, they bear much more significance.
Jiangxi is home to many localities where the early revolutionary activities of the Communist Party of China (CPC) were conducted, and local ancestral halls have become witnesses of that important history.
These days, ancestral halls have become must-see sites for “red tours,” where visitors are taken to the former sites of the CPC to learn about history. The tours have been expanding in China in recent years. The government in Jiangxi plans to receive 240 million visitors on “red tours” by 2020.
In the city of Ruijin, such a hall stands quietly amid the former site of the Chinese Soviet Republic, which was established in 1931 under the leadership of the CPC.
The CPC chose to hold the first national congress of the Chinese Soviet Republic in the ancestral hall, where they announced the founding of the republic and elected an interim central government. It was an important event in the history of the CPC, which was facing the siege of the Kuomintang party forces led by Chiang Kai-shek at that time.
The hall, which belonged to a family surnamed Xie, was built during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) and has more than 400 years of history. After the first national congress of the Chinese Soviet Republic, it became the working venue for the officials of the interim government.
“The ancestral hall of the Xies has a lot of space and can host many people, which is why it was chosen as the venue for the congress,” said Liu Qianhua, an expert on the history of the CPC. “More importantly, the Xie family supported the revolution under the leadership of the CPC.”
Liu said that choosing the hall as a working venue at that time was out of consideration not to disturb local people’s lives.
“Locals did not live in the hall, and the place was only used during big festivals such as the Lunar New Year,” he said. “The rest of the year, it was basically vacant, which allowed the CPC to work there.”
Xie Zhiyun, 76, is a member of the Xie family. He often visits the former site and pays tribute to the family’s ancestors in the hall during Tomb-Sweeping Day each year.
“In my eyes, the Chinese Soviet Republic represented the interests of the public, which is why my family decided to offer the hall to them as their working venue,” he said.
Before holding the congress there, CPC members in charge of coordination for the event held discussions with the Xies. After gaining their understanding and permission, they chose another building as a replacement for the ancestral hall of the Xies, according to local historical records. In accordance with local traditions, the Red Army soldiers worked together with the family to relocate the memorial tablets and the sacrificial altar to the new building. The soldiers then invited craftsmen to decorate the original hall and turned it into a solemn venue for hosting the congress.
After the meeting, the soldiers transformed the big hall into 15 rooms, which served as the offices of the interim government’s departments, including foreign affairs, land, internal affairs, finance, education, justice and labor. The largest room was less than 15 square meters.
When tourists come to Ruijin, most of them will visit the ancestral hall, said Huang Lufen, a red tour instructor at the site. Huang has been working there for six years. Inside the hall, long wooden benches line the hall where visitors sit and listen to her explain the history.
“The CPC officials used to work in these small rooms,” she said to a group of tourists. “When they were tired, they just slept on the long, narrow benches.”
In October 1934, the Chinese Workers’ and Peasants’ Red Army was forced to begin a military maneuver called the Long March to break the siege of the Kuomintang party forces and continue to fight Japanese aggressors. The interim government was transferred, leaving behind the buildings in Ruijin. Many of the buildings where the early CPC members worked were destroyed, but the ancestral hall managed to survive.
Like the hall in Ruijin, many ancestral halls in Jiangxi have become actual history books telling stories of the CPC to the public. As a cultural heritage, they have been well protected by authorities.
In Jiangxi’s Yudu County, for example, there are close to 600 ancestral halls, many of which witnessed the early revolutionary activities of the Red Army.
In Hanxin Village, which has more than 600 years of history, more than 20 ancestral halls exist. A Red Army troop left their base there and marched through rivers, mountains and arid grassland amid the Long March. Many of the Red Army soldiers were local villagers who died on the road.
In each of the ancestral halls in the village, there are two “family tree” books. One of them details the names of the generations that lived in the village and the other has the names of Red Army soldiers who sacrificed their lives at that time. More than 500 Red Army soldiers from the village died in battles, including more than 200 who died in the Long March.
“We put the books together because we believe that the blood of our martyrs paved the way for the good lives that we are living today, and we must remember them and learn to cherish the good days,” said a local villager.
(Video reporter: Wen Meiliang; Video editor: Yin Le)