8 ways to experience communism in Beijing

8 ways to experience communism in Beijing

On the 90th anniversary of the Communist Party of China, you can ramble through the capital on an (unofficial) Mao Zedong tour

Ahead of its 90th birthday bash in July, the Communist Party of China has stepped up its drive to glorify old revolutionary stories and “Great Helmsman.”

This unofficial tour of Mao in China’s capital, however, will get you just as close to the spirit of the movement.


1. Chairman Mao Memorial Hall

Chairman Mao Memorial Hall Is it real or a waxwork?
Join the red-capped hordes lining up to ogle the Great Helmsman in eternal slumber at Tiananmen Square, the epic concrete playground Mao commissioned to make Moscow’s Red Square seem like a patio.

After his death in 1976, Mao’s embalmed body was put on display in this Soviet-inspired mausoleum; signs instruct visitors to remove hats and be solemn, but the exasperated white gloved guards have their work cut out scolding the less than reverent tourists chattering away on mobile phones.

Visit early -- the mausoleum closes at noon.

8 a.m.-noon; Tiananmen Square, Chang’an Avenue, Dongcheng District, Beijing


2. The Writers Bar, Raffles Hotel

The Writers Bar, Raffles HotelEven with a regime to run, there’s always time for dancing.
For close to a century, the "Grand Hotel de Pekin" has stood resolute as waves of political upheaval swept through its carpeted corridors.

Occupied by the Japanese during World War II, Mao’s PLA held their banquets here a decade later before the Great Hall of the People was commissioned nearby at Tiananmen Square. Taken over by Raffles in 2005, the chandelier-strewn lobby exudes history.

And on its antique hardwood dance floor, restored in 2000, a certain Mr. Mao was known to take a turn.

33 East Chang An Avenue, Dongcheng District; +86 10 6526 3388


3. Military Museum

Beijing Military MuseumPlans for a Chinese Mount Rushmore never passed the model stage.
The fog of war is as thick as rice porridge at this museum -- now with free entry -- charting the military campaigns of Mao’s communists.

Wading through countless maps and rusty artifacts will give even the most rigorous fact-seeker battle fatigue -- especially with exhibits titled "heightening the sense of the discipline and being sure of winning the revolution."

Look long enough and you might see a wooden bucket, a bag and a lamp that belonged to Mao.

Failing that, head to the weapons gallery to see an arsenal of Chinese-made guns, missiles and bombs, including the bulbous "T 1000 sink mine." Wasn’t that a Terminator?

Daily 8 a.m.-5.30 p.m.; Fuxing Road, Haidian District, Beijing; +86 10 6686 6244


4. Red Capital Club

Red Capital ClubMadame Mao’s limo has seen better days. Actually, no it hasn’t.
Opened by an American with a penchant for Communist paraphernalia, this bar/restaurant is a mini museum dedicated to Mao, with threadbare armchairs lifted from the Great Hall of the People, Mao statuettes, photographs, reproduction paintings and display cases with pistols and other dusty gear.

The menu offers dishes such as “Chairman’s Request,” a cooling salad of bitter melon Mao was fond of.

A few years back, Red Capital guests could ride in Madame Mao’s limo, but these days it remains parked up beside the entrance.

Underneath the brick courtyard, a genuine bomb shelter keeps the wines cool year round.

Daily 6 p.m.-midnight; 66 Dongsi Jiutiao, Dongcheng District, Beijing; +86 10 6402 7150


5. Mao propaganda

Mao propaganda“Peasant woz 'ere.”
A few forgotten bits of hand-painted, Cultural Revolution-era Mao propaganda remain unwashed from secluded alleyway walls in Beijing’s hutong neighborhoods.

Peek through the sturdy red gate at no. 65 Dongsi Shisitiao to glimpse a striking, 12-foot-high mural of a strong-jawed peasant on the wall. Faded by years, it’s supported by a Chinese slogan that says, “Long live the glorious Chinese Communist Party.”

Back in the day, you could see imagery and slogans like this all over the city.

65 Dongsi Shisitiao, Dongcheng District


6. Obamao

Obamao“Yes we can (root out the capitalist roaders!)”
What is an image of Barrack Obama spliced with Chairman Mao above the slogan “Serve the people” actually saying?

Hard to know, but that doesn’t stop the boutiques along the cobbled tourist alley of Nanluogu Xiang from stocking T-shirts, coasters and mugs emblazoned with the mashed-up mug shot.

Nostalgia for the green and red scheme of Mao-era standard issue clobber has led to all sorts of spin-off souvenirs, including a kitchen apron with the Mao slogan “model husband” written on it.

Nanluogu Xiang, Gulou Dongdajie, Dongcheng District


7. Mao Family Restaurant

Red-braised pork bellyRed-braised pork belly, breakfast of champions.
This chain of red-themed eateries --“mao jia fandian” -- runs countrywide, and the branch in Beijing’s wholesale tea district is said to have ties to the Chairman’s daughter.

Here, the faithful graze on giant portions of Mao's favorite dish, red-braised pork belly, and other spicy standards from Mao’s home province of Hunan.

In his later years, Mao was warned by doctors to ease up on the rib-sticking fatty pork, to which he allegedly replied: “How can something that makes me so happy be bad for me?”

Daily 11 a.m.-9:30 p.m.; Maliandao Nanjie, Xuanwu District, Beijing; +86 10 6345 6546


8. Panjiayuan Market

Panjiayuan MarketTrinkets galore, but few genuine antiques.
At one time, every home in the country would have had a Mao portrait on the wall and perhaps a statuette on the mantle, and certainly a few badges and Little Red Books.

This sprawling flea market is the place to come and pick over for genuine Mao-era knickknacks, including photos, old money and even Communist children’s books. At Panjiayuan, come before 10 a.m. to grab the best loot.

But be wary of modern reproductions sprayed with "fake" dust.

Mon-Fri 8.30 a.m.-6 p.m., Sat-Sun 4.30 a.m.-6 p.m.; West of Panjiayuan Bridge, Chaoyang District, Beijing; +86 10 6775 2405


A food and travel specialist, Tom has munched his way through the capital’s best kaoyadian in search of the perfect Peking duck, journeyed along the former Silk Road to the distant sands of Kashgar, grappled a baby panda in Sichuan, and generally counted himself lucky for being witness to an era-defining period of Chinese history. He has written for The Guardian, Travel & Leisure, Fodor’s, Time Out and the South China Morning Postand blogs at www.tomfreelance.com.

Read more about Tom O'Malley