Nanjie Cun: The Last Communist Utopia?

Nanjie Cun has often been described as China’s last Maoist village. Given China’s current approach to economics, which ironically began under Chairman Deng Xiaoping in the mid eighties just as Nanjie Cun became a collective, it could be argued that it is also the last remnant of Communist China. Although the Communist Party of China still contains the C word, no one could deny that other C word, Capitalism, albeit in its unique Chinese form, reigns supreme here now.

And yet, despite major changes in economic policy within China, the fall of the Berlin wall and the collapse of Communism without, the citizens of Nanjie still stubbornly hold on to the ideal of the collective. Some might say it is a town in denial, others that it is admirable in its defiance. But whatever your opinion, you can’t say it isn’t interesting.

Nanjie fun East is red squareEngels still looking thoughtful in East is Red Square, Nanjie Cun

The Journey

My friend and colleague Ollie and I decided to check it out last weekend. Nanjie Cun is a couple of hours bus ride from Zhengzhou Central Station. Nothing ever runs smoothly in China, at least that has been my experience so far. When we tried to purchase our tickets the cashier kept repeating something in Chinese which we didn’t understand. We kept repeating ‘Nanjie Cun’, which, though the lady appeared to understand, was obviously not the answer she was looking for. This went on for far too long before she took a photo ID out of her pocket and started waving it around furiously, yelling at us in Chinese. Ah! She needed our passports. Actions speak louder than words, sometimes, especially when words cannot be understood. But most Chinese prefer to try words for ten minutes first.

Nanjie Cun‘Welcome to Nanjie’. It looks a bit bleak but to be fair it was a gloomy day.

Nanjie Cun is just a couple of kilometres from the bus station in Linying. You can grab a pedicab from there for 10 RMB ($1.60US). You could try your luck with a taxi but most refuse to put their meter on and try to charge you a price that would be extortionate even by western standards. Pedicabs, despite their name, are usually motorised three-wheel vehicles that are highly discernible by their distinctive fire-engine red. I was a little disappointed when I first saw one, to be honest: I had half expected a Flintstone-type pedi-powered vehicle.

Nanjie Cun Hotel

The once white tiled Nanjie Cun Hotel in Nanjie is pristine by Chinese standards, though it looks a tad dated inside and out. Disappointingly the female staff no longer wear the olive green military fatigues that you see elsewhere in the village. Instead their attire now consists of a garish pink blazer and black slacks that look at least as dated as the hotel itself. I’ve noticed elsewhere in China the disproportionate number of staff to patrons.

nanjie cun hotelA staff member busies herself doing nothing in the empty Nanjie Cun hotel

Here it is taken to extremes. The hotel appeared to be empty apart from Ollie and myself yet there was a member of staff on each floor behind a desk, several in the foyer and more in the restaurant. Instead of just giving us a key, an essential component of the well-oiled proletariat machine would open room doors each time we went in and out.

Nanjie Cun HotelThe Nanjie Cun Hotel may look dated but it is in pristine condition by Henan Province standards

East is Red Square

A short walk from the hotel is East is Red square, where on large coloured posters the fathers of Communist thought and revolt look down benevolently upon tourists snapping pictures below. Centre stage is a statue of chairman Mao himself. Larger than life of course, cap held humbly behind his back, grin etched on his ashen features and hand captured mid-wave at some imaginary throng on the empty, rain-soaked highway.

Nanjie Cun East is Red StalinStalin, considered a genocidal despot by many, has a place of honour in East is East Square

Nanjie Cun East is Red LeninLenin looks disapprovingly at a ‘white van man’. He must be a Sun reader…

Loud music, if one should be so generous, blasts from speakers. I didn’t recognise the tunes but I have been reliably informed they are Communist anthems of old, including the old Peoples’ Republic anthem ‘The East is Red”. The town has slogans in Chinese inside and out. One of the few pearls of wisdom in English was from the hotel’s menu: ‘A drop of water needs but to be part of a great ocean to never dry up; a person has the greatest strength when part of a collective body’. Indeed.

Nanjie Cun East is RedOllie to the right of Mao – well, who isn’t?

The Town

The town was almost eerily quiet. We walked into a supermarket which was empty. It looked odd. Like a too clean film-set in an old movie. A chandelier hung incongruously from the ceiling and the ladies were dressed in revolutionary red this time. They were very nice though. And smiled tolerantly when we took photos. It was the weekend so the famous Nanjie noodle factories were naturally closed but there didn’t appear to be anything much happening. Where were the locals?

Nanjie Cun Strange little store in Nanjie. Even some of the shelves were empty.

We had a dander around the neatly pruned gardens which would have been extremely pleasant if it not for the inclement weather. As usual I had come ill prepared and my flip-flops were giving me all sorts of problems on the slippery pavements. Even here there is no escaping a subtle reminder of the power of the proletariat.

Nanjie Cun East is Red LeninOllie admiring communist relief artwork in one of the well groomed gardens. The propaganda is as subtle as the proverbial workers’ hammer.

Communal Eating

We finally found some people in a communal canteen. This canteen served Halal food for the local Muslim population. In retrospect it was probably a little rude to take an unsolicited picture of people at repast. The locals use a voucher system rather than cash, though apparently tourists can purchase food too. I was feeling hungry but it all looked very complicated. Even the simplest of transactions can turn into epic animated exchanges in China so we moved on.

Nanjie Cun communal eatingLocals eat together in communal dining rooms where vouchers replace cash

Eventually we found ourselves at the edge of the town. There was a dinosaur show there for the children of tourists who were busy eating, I would have thought, decadent bourgeoise food. I even spotted a chocolate fountain. Strange trumpet sounds came from behind a screen that was erected so no one could see in. I surreptitiously took a picture over the curtain. The things I do for a scoop.

nanjie cunThe Jurassic Park franchise is safe for now it would seem

Nanjie Cun east is red

How to get there

Buses leave every hour from Zhengzhou Central Station between 6.30 am and 6.00 pm. Journey should take around two hours in good traffic, though allow for three. Once you arrive at Linying take a pedicab to Nanjie, which is barely 2 km from the station. At time of writing a single bus ticket was 40RMB ($6.40). The pedicab should cost no more than 10RMB. Avoid taking a taxi unless the driver agrees to use the meter, which he almost certainly will not.

NOTE: Remember to take your passport. Identification is required to travel to Nanjie Cun.

 

Zhengzhou ex patsBack to dreary old Capitalism in Zhengzhou with fellow TEFL teachers Phil, Ollie, Me and Dan.

 

Have you been to Nanjie or perhaps something similar like a Kibbutz in Israel? What did you think? Let me know, down below.