It was teaming down in Shaoshan when I got there in spring 2006. Just bucketing. The paddy fields shone electric green with all the water, the drains struggled with the torrents and most locals were taking shelter.
That didn’t stop the hundreds of coaches pulling up though. Come rain or shine, this little slice of western Hunan province is mobbed day in, day out with an armada of mainland tourist buses at this quasi-religious site – the village where Mao was born. Nothing can prepare you for the old world propaganda and tack that lies in store in this otherwise charming slice of Hunanese countryside; it is a throw back and a must see in China’s fast changing society. The streets are lined with all manner of Mao tack, from badges, clocks, watches, posters to lighters, lasers, and VCDs. Brand Mao is very much alive and well.
The mud-walled house where Mao was born on December 26, 1893 and brought up with his two brothers is surprisingly large, facing south with pines behind and paddy terraces in front. It is free to enter unlike the Na’Nan school next door which is rather dull at 10RMB to see where Mao started his studies. Slap bang in the middle of the village is Bronze Square where, in something reminiscent of Turkmenistan or North Korea, tour groups line up to bow in front of a large Mao statue. Across from the statue is a museum on the life of Mao, costing 30RMB to enter. Next to this and costing 10RMB is Mao’s Ancestral Temple.
To the east of the village is Dripping Water Cave, (entrance 33RMB) where Mao and his entourage decamped to in 1966 for a fortnight amid the Cultural Revolution. Set at the back of a lovely forested, watery park where patriotic music blares from speakers secreted in fake rocks, the cave is more of a dacha. At the end of the tour you can have your photo taken alongside a lifelike Mao mannequin for 5RMB.
Finally, on a rutted road two km south of town is a chairlift to ascend Shao Shan, an impressive mountain. The lift, open 0800 to 1730 all year round, costs 23RMB single or 45RMB return.
China might have changed beyond all belief since the Great Helmsman popped his clogs, but he still makes a top tourist draw.