High Peaks Pure Earth has translated a blogpost by Woeser written on November 13, 2013 for the Tibetan service of Radio Free Asia and published on her blog on December 3, 2013.
Woeser writes about a bizarre sounding Cultural Revolution themed hotpot restaurant in Lhasa. From the website of “The Great Team Leader” restaurant, it would appear that this is a chain originating in Chongqing. Readers who remember the glory days of Bo Xilai will recall that all things “Red” (including Red Songs) were celebrated by him in Chongqing.
The Cultural Revolution, especially in Tibet, is a period of history that Woeser knows well, see her previous post about her book “Forbidden Memory” and view photos taken by her father Tsering Dorjee that were published online by Foreign Policy last year.
“People from Chongqing Open a Cultural Revolution Themed Hotpot Restaurant in Lhasa”
Lhasa is now home to a Cultural Revolution themed hotpot restaurant that was opened in early 2013 by some boss from Chongqing, its name is “The Great Team Leader”. All wait staff, men, women, Chinese, and Tibetan wear the same monotonous Red Guards uniforms and call themselves “Commune Members”. From these two names, we can clearly recognise the nostalgia for Mao Zedong’s “People’s Communes”.
The interior of the restaurant is decorated with all kinds of drawings and objects from the Cultural Revolution as well as Mao’s slogans and photos of “educated youth”, “sent down” to the countryside. We also find some portraits of the CCP’s “Ten Great Marshalls”. But those old leaders who paved the way for Mao and the CCP were in actual fact mistreated by Mao during the Cultural Revolution. Lin Biao, Peng Dehuai, for instance, died a tragic end without any burial site. Other than that, we also find a huge photograph of Deng Xiaoping wearing a military uniform and propagating the “Opening-Up Reforms” in the 1980s, which unavoidably evokes memories of him sending out military troops to kill students on June 4, 1989.
I heard from a friend that this Cultural Revolution theme restaurant was purposefully opened here. One has to eat hotpot in order to experience its atmosphere. At around 8pm, the Tibetan and Chinese wait staff dressed up as Red Guards start to perform an ugly Cultural Revolution dance to Mao’s slogans set to music and to the so-called popular Cultural Revolution Tibetan song sung by Tseten Dolma. But they also mix in Hong Kong and Taiwanese pop music from the 90’s. It is quite ridiculous but of course it is all for the sake of consumerism. What I noticed, however, was that next to Mao Zedong’s portrait, four people were missing. Today, even Tibetan monasteries have to hang up the “Portraits of China’s Five Great Leaders”, this restaurant should do so too.
Not so long ago, international pro-Tibet groups strongly opposed the opening of the InterContinental, the “world-class luxury hotel” in Lhasa under the name of “InterContinental Resort Lhasa Paradise”, criticising that the presence of a multinational corporation gifts priceless publicity to a Chinese regime that violates Tibetan people’s basic human rights. In fact, at the same time or even earlier than this, restaurants such as “The Great Team Leader” that outrightly praise the Cultural Revolution have been opening up in Lhasa. The Cultural Revolution for Tibet has been, as the Tibetan words reveal, a cruel act of “killing and plunder”. In today’s Lhasa we still see the ruins of monasteries, all relics of the Cultural Revolution, like painful scars. And the evil lingers on, returning under the pretext of consumerism. It is worrying to see that among the customers sitting around the tables of this restaurant, there are many Tibetans, even elderly people who at the time of the Cultural Revolution were at the age to be one of the Red Guards, not that they are also nostalgic for the Cultural Revolution?
It is worth questioning whether this Hotpot restaurant really cherishes the spirit of the Cultural Revolution. It of course offers private rooms that are more expensive, that offer different glasses and tableware, it even has two different kitchens, perhaps they even prepare the vegetables and meat in differing ways. The private rooms are cleaner and better taken care of for those rich people, whereas ordinary people have to put up with the main eating area. Even though Mao Zedong declared to put an end to the “three major distinctions”, he himself did not adhere to this, granting himself all kinds of privileges. The restaurant’s most luxurious private room is called “Zhongnanhai”, and of course is decorated in an imposing manner with portraits of the CCP’s forefathers on the wall: Marx, Engels and Lenin. The dining table equipped with shiny tableware and posh wine glasses comes in the shape of a large red five-pointed star. It appears that one can eat hotpot and simultaneously hold a Party meeting here.
Of course, China’s attempt to export the Cultural Revolution as a theme to the world is becoming ever more intense. Recently, Xinhua News Agency happily announced that Chinese people opened a restaurant called “The East is Red” in Tokyo. The boss of the hotpot restaurant in Lhasa said proudly that they had not opened any restaurant in Tokyo but that they had just started to investigate the possibility of going to the US. If feasible, they are also going to open such a private room called “Zhongnanhai” over there.
After I posted photos of this hotpot restaurant on Twitter and Facebook, a netizen commented: “Isn’t this as if in a German restaurant they would hang up portraits of Hitler, Himmler and Goebbels and have waiters dress in SS uniforms?”, “Chinese people are abnormal and twisted.”
November 13, 2013, Lhasa
This post is also available in: English