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Note: On this page, China's main political party is alternatingly referred to as the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) or the Communist Party of China (CPC). Whereas CPC is mostly used in China, CCP is more commonly used in the West.
The Yan'an Revolutionary Sites
The city of Yan'an is located on the Loess Plateau in northern Shaanxi province. It holds a special place in Chinese history as the former base of the Communist Party of China (CPC) between October 1935 and 1947. It was from this base in one of the poorest areas of China that the leadership of the Chinese Communists planned their war efforts in the Second Sino-Japanese War as well as the Chinese Civil War. Life in Yan'an was hard during this period. Even the upper leadership of the CPC had to live in sparsely furnished cave dwellings (Yan'an's traditional Yaodong houses) and food and other ressources were scarce. In order to improve the situation, the CPC launched a Large Scale Production Campaign. The Yan'an Rectification Movement was the second mass movement that was launched in Yan'an in an effort to strenghten the party ideologically.
After the CPC was in firm control of the country in 1949, the decision was made to preserve many places relating to Yan'an's revolutionary past as museum sites. The city as well as the central government in Beijing are making every effort to promote Yan'an as a Red Tourism destination and the efforts are increasingly bearing fruit. According to the city's mayor Xue Zhanhai, there are 445 revolutionary sites in Yan’an. Out of these, 168 sites are located in the urban area. The most famous of these sites are listed and described below on this page. Whereas Yan'an's iconic Pagoda Hill and the Yan'an Revolutionary Memorial Hall are must-sees for every tourist, the other sites are generally far less visited. Nevertheless, history buffs should definitely try to fit the Yangjialing Revolutionary Site, Zaoyuan Revolutionary Site, Fenghuang Mountain Revolutionary Site and the Former Revolutionary Headquarters at Wangjiaping into their travel schedule as well. Yan'an's revolutionary sites amidst its arid landscape definitely give the city a special charme and tourist numbers can be expected to continue to increase steadily with the recent opening of the new Nanniwan Airport.
The Yangjialing Revolutionary Site
The Yangjialing Revolutionary Site covers an area of 6.7 hectares (16.6 acres) at the village of Yangjialing, about 2 km northwest of Yan'an. This is the site where the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) was based from November 1938 until March 1947. At this former headquarter of China's Communist Party that was opened to the public in 1959, visitors can see the Great Auditorium, the Office Building and a number of artificial caves that were carved into the hillsides. These caves that are known as Yaodong are very common in this part of China. At the Yangjialing Revolutionary Site, they served as the residences of the early leaders of China's Communist Party such as Mao Zedong, Zhou Enlai and others. The rooms of these leaders are well maintained and preserved in their historic state and hundreds of revolutionary relics are on display there.
The most significant historical event at the Yangjialing Revolutionary Site took place from the 23rd of April until the 11th of June 1945. That was when the 7th National Congress of the CCP was held inside the Great Auditorium at the site. During this congress, Mao Zedong was elected as chairman of the CCP Central Committee. During its renovation in 1953, the main hall of the Great Auditorium was once again decorated much like it was for the 7th Congress. The large building that was originally built in 1942 by the CPC leaders and officials themselves also includes a dancing hall.
The three-storey Office Building at the rear of the auditorium had already been built in 1941. Many key decisions that shaped China's future were made at the political bureau on its third floor. The party officials had their offices on its second floor and the rooms on the first floor include a boardroom and a military research hall.
The Yangjialing Revolutionary Site is the place where the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party stayed the longest during their time in Yan'an. Mao Zedong wrote and published many important articles during this period and his interview by the American journalist Anna Louise Strong in August 1946 took place at the stone table in front of the Yaodong cave dwelling where he lived then and there.
Another famous CCP leader must have had good memories of his time in Yangjialing as well. Deng Xiaoping is primarily remembered throughout the world for his economic reforms of the late 1970's that opened up China to the world. Yangjialing was the place where he got married to his third and last wife Zhuo Lin in September 1939. The wedding took place in front of the Yaodong cave dwellings under the presence of the entire CCP leadership.
The Zaoyuan Revolutionary Site of Yan'an
The Zaoyuan Revolutionary Site is located about 8 km to the northwest of the city of Yan'an. It was originally the private garden and manor of a local warlord. When the Chinese Communists made Yan'an their base, they renamed the garden as "Yanyuan". The Chinese characters that form this name on the entrance pillars of the compound were written by the Communist Party official Kang Sheng himself. As a close associate of Mao Zedong, Kang served his country in various top leadership positions, most prominently as the Vice Chairman of the CPC Central Committee from 1973 until his death in 1975.
Whereas the Social Department of the CPC Central Committee used the Zaoyuan Revolutionary Site at first, it eventually became the seat of the CPC Secretariat. It was used in this function from October 1943 until March 1947. Altogether, there are 20 traditional cave dwellings, more than 80 houses with tiled roofs and one assembly hall at the site that covers a surface area of 540,000 square meters (about 133 acres).
The years during which the Secretariat of the CPC Central Committee was based at the Zaoyuan Revolutionary Site were vital for China's future development. Important ideological mass movements like the Yan'an rectification movement and a large-scale production campaign were launched during this period. Additionally, the war effort in China's War of Resistance against Japanese Aggression (a.k.a. the Second Sino-Japanese War) was coordinated and the continuation of the Chinese Civil War against the nationalist Kuomintang was prepared from here.
Near the entrance of the site, visitors will see bronze statues of the five secretaries of the CPC Central Committee Ren Bishi, Zhou Enlai, Mao Zedong, Liu Shaoqi and Zhu De. The leaders are depicted optimistically striding forward towards a better future. Their spartanly furnished former residences as well as the assembly hall where they once held their meetings are all open to the public. Most of the displayed 815 cultural relics relate to this period of war and revolution in China's history. However, it is not only its historic value that makes the Zaoyuan Revolutionary Site one of the most popular Red Tourism sites in Yan'an. Especially in spring, the site also attracts many tourists with its tranquil garden atmossphere. Many trees and a variety of flowers create an especially beautiful scenery then but the site is worthwhile to be visited throughout the year.
Fenghuang Mountain Revolutionary Site
The 15 cave dwellings and more than 50 houses with tiled roofs at the Fenghuang Mountain Revolutionary Site were the first base of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China in Yan'an. The Communist leadership stayed there between January 1937 and November 1938. The General Staff of the Chinese Red Army was also based there during the first part of this time. The site is located at the foot of the Fenghuang Mountain right next to some of Yan'an's main roads. Japanese aircraft began to bomb Yan'an on the 20th of November 1938 and the city suffered major damage during this bombardment. The Revolutionary Site at the Foot of Fenghuang Mountain was consequently considered to be too exposed to enemy aircraft fire. Therefore, the Communist leadership moved to the Yangjialing Revolutionary Site. Even though the village of Yangjialing is only about 2 km away from the city, that was back then far enough so as to be safe from the bombardement.
History buffs that want to learn more about China's revolutionary struggles won't be disappointed when visiting the Revolutionary Site at the Foot of Fenghuang Mountain. That is not only because of the visitable former residences of Mao Zedong, Zhou Enlai and Zhu De but also because of a great photo exhibition that occupies many rooms at the site. The exhibition is dedicated to the life and work of Norman Bethune, a Canadian doctor who selflessly treated the wounded communist fighters of the Eighth Route Army from January 1938 until his death in November 1939. Bethune is regarded as a great hero in China even today and many elder Chinese can still recite Mao Zedong's famous eulogy to him from memory.
Mao Zedong's former cave dwelling at the upper right corner of the Fenghuang Mountain Revolutionary Site consists of his office and bedroom, a book and newspaper room and a room for meeting and greeting guests. During the time that he lived and worked at the site, Mao wrote many important essays such as "On Practice: On the Relation Between Knowledge and Practice, Between Knowing and Doing", "On Contradiction", "Strategic Problems in the Guerrilla War against Japan", "Combat Liberalism", "On Protracted War" . . . etc. The General Staff of the Chinese Workers and Peasants Red Army was at first stationed in the upper left area of the compound but later transfered their headquarter to the site at Wangjiaping. Zhou Enlai and Zhu De's former residences at the lower houses of the compound can also be visited.
Former Revolutionary Headquarters at Wangjiaping
The Former Revolutionary Headquarters at Wangjiaping is where the Revolutionary Military Committee and the leadership of the armed forces of the Chinese Communists were based between January 1937 and March 1947. From this base in the northwest of the city, the military leadership planned and coordinated the war effort in the fight of resistance against Japan as well as the civil war against the Kuomintang. When the Kuomintang briefly occupied Yan'an in March 1947 after winning the Battle of Yan'an, some of the buildings at the Wangjiaping site were destroyed. The National Revolutionary Army of the Kuomintang however only managed to hold Yan'an for about a week. Even though Yan'an was subsequently no longer as important as before for the Chinese Communists and their People's Liberation Army, the Former Revolutionary Headquarters at Wangjiaping was nevertheless fully repaired in 1949.
At the site, visitors can view a large auditorium, war planning rooms and conference rooms of the military commissars and the old houses of Mao Zedong, Zhu De, Peng Dehuai, Wang Jiaxiang and Ye Jianying. The auditorium that is located right at the entrance of the Former Revolutionary Headquarters at Wangjiaping was built in 1943 by the military staff themselves. The military leadership of the Chinese Communists once used the large hall inside for meetings that could accomodate up to 1,000 people.
Mao Zedong only lived at the Former Revolutionary Headquarters at Wangjiaping between January 1946 and March 1947. His residence there only had two rooms, an office and a bedroom, but he also had access to a designated meeting room on the eastern side of the Military Commission Hall. The Commander-in-Chief of the Red Army Zhu De stayed at his three-room cave at Wangjiaping from the spring of 1941 until August 1945. His residence is located on the western side of the Military Commission Hall. In February and March 1947, Peng Dehuai lived and directed the Battle of Yan'an from his three-room cave dwelling at the Wangjiaping site. He was the commander of the Northwest Field Army of the Communists that was charged with defending the city from invasion by the Kuomintang forces. Wang Jiaxiang and Ye Jianying were two other close political allies of Mao. Their former residences are located on the mountainside behind the area that was occupied by the Military Commission. The data room and conference room where the head of the Central Military Commission often held meetings during the war years in Yan'an can also be visited.
Pagoda Hill (Baota Shan)
"Only after climbing to the top of Pagoda Hill can you claim you have been to Yan'an" is a saying that is often heard when this city and its history are discussed. There is definitely no other place in Yan'an that better symbolizes the city's importance during China's revolutionary struggles than this iconic hill. It is located in the southeastern part of the city where it rises to an elevation of 1136 meters above sea level. The landmark hill is also known as Baota Hill or Baota Shan in Chinese. To get the best view of it, it might be a good idea to climb the nearby Qingliang Hill first. From there, you will be able to take excellent pictures of the hill and the pagoda that stands at its pinnacle.
The first pagoda was erected on top of the hill during the time of the Tang dynasty. Even though this original pagoda doesn't exist anymore, a formidable nine-storey octagonal brick pagoda that was built during the time of the Ming dynasty solidly stands in its place today. From the top of this 44-meter-tall pagoda, visitors will have the best view of Yan'an and the surrounding Loess Plateau scenery.
Near the pagoda, you will usually see many Chinese tourists dress up in the historic uniforms of the Red Army for the purpose of taking pictures. The Baota Pagoda is however not the only worthwhile site on the hill that covers a total area of 360,000 square meters (3,875,000 square feet). A huge iron bell that the Chinese Communists used as an alarm bell can be found right next to the pagoda. It is known as Ping'an Bell (Safety Bell) and was originally cast during the Ming dynasty. There is also a huge drum named Taiping Drum (Peace Drum) that visitors can beat. Every day, many tourists line up to beat the drum and ring the bell as both are believed to bring good health and happiness.
Further down Pagoda Hill, visitors will find a cliff area where the rocks bear calligraphic inscriptions from the time of the Song dynasty. The inscriptions were carved into the rocks by famous ancient scholars such as Fan Zhongyan to whom the Chinese words that signify "Being confident with millions of great soldiers in your mind" are attributed. Other important historic relics that can be found on the hill are stone steles/tablets from the time of the Qing dynasty, a beacon tower and remnants of the ancient city wall.
A visit of Yan'an's Pagoda Hill is also worthwhile due to its attractive natural landscape. The entire area has been designated as the Baota Mountain Park which shows China's growing focus on environmental protection. Especially during the hot summer months, tourists and residents alike seek shelter in the cooling shade of the hill's luxuriant trees. After all, the average temperature on the hill can be 3 to 4 degrees Celsius lower than in the city then.
Yan'an Revolutionary Memorial Hall
The Yan'an Revolutionary Memorial Hall is a large museum that is located in the Baota district of Yan'an relatively close to the Yangjialing Revolutionary Site. Founded in 1950 and opened to the public in February 1951, it is one of the oldest and largest revolutionary memorial halls in the country and was previously known as the Yan'an Revolutionary Museum. The museum boasts a collection of around 35,000 cultural relics from China's revolutionary period as well as more than 5,500 historic photos and more than 12,000 books and other printed materials. The museum's focus are clearly the 13 years of revolutionary activities of the Communist Party of China and that is reflected in the selection of the 1,300 relics, audio and video material and more than 200 historic photographs that are on permanent display. The revolutionary relics that are showcased all over the museum's vast exhibition area of 3,200 square meters are not limited to typical military items such as uniforms and weapons but also include unusual items such as footballs and sewing machines. The perhaps most famous exhibit of the museum is the white horse of Mao Zedong that has been preserved for posterity through taxidermy.
It might be a good idea to make the Yan'an Revolutionary Memorial Hall the last stop during a Yan'an visit. This will help visitors to form a comprehensive perspective from all the information that was learned previously during the visits of Yan'an's various revolutionary sites (such as the ones described further up on this page). Even though not all museum exhibits have English explanations, foreign visitors still won't have much trouble following the story of China's revolutionary struggles that is explained in the museum's rooms and halls. There are large tableaus at the entrance of each room/hall and all throughout the museum that provide easy-to-understand summaries of the historic events in both Chinese and English. Large-scale wall paintings, heroic statues of China's revolutionary leaders/fighters, illuminated display cabinets, replicas of historic buildings (such as of Yan'an's typical Yaodong cave dwellings), lifesize wax figurines dressed in the typical clothing of the times, historic weapons (like Mao's pistol) and military vehicles . . . etc. make a visit of the Yan'an Revolutionary Memorial Hall illustrative and interesting not only for adults but also for children.
Even though the museum certainly presents the Yan'an years of the CPC in a glorious light, the constant hardship and arduous struggle that characterize these years are not camouflaged but realistically presented. Due to the Kuomintang's military and economic blockade of the CPC's Yan'an base, many daily necessities were sorely lacking. The Communist soldiers of the Eighth Route Army for example didn't have enough socks to wear and blankets to keep them warm in winter. The communist leadership was not exempted from deprivation and some of the frugal items that were then in possession of these famous men are also on display at the museum.