A 6,000-mile hike is an arduous undertaking. Add starvation, disease, and unceasing attacks from an enemy force, and you’d be lucky to make it alive. Few who went on the Long March—the infamous journey communist forces made across China in 1934—did. Yet the Chinese tourists reenacting it in Thomas Peter’s bizarre photos seem to be having a blast.
They dodge enemy “fire,” strap “wounded” comrades to makeshift stretchers, and race bamboo rafts across treacherous waters with all the gusto of kids playing Capture the Flag. It’s part of a three-day camp organized by the Jinggangshan Revolutionary Tradition College in the lush mountains of Jinggangshan, near where the Long March first began. “People clearly enjoyed it,” Peter says. “The mood was light and relaxed.”
Chinese citizens have pilgrimaged to sacred communist sites since the Cultural Revolution. But “red tourism”—as the Chinese government calls it—has increased over the past decade, with authorities investing millions in roads, monuments, and other infrastructure. As President Xi Jinping gains ever more power, schools like Jinggangshan Revolutionary Tradition College fall in step with his vision for China, promising to “build a party spirit” and teach “the spirit of the general secretary Xi Jinping”—partly through a series of ideological camps.
Peter caught the first day of a camp this past September on assignment with Reuters. It drew 50-odd bank tellers, clothing company employees, and other workers from all over China. On arrival, they changed into replicas of Red Army uniforms and divided into three teams, each with its own regiment number and flag. The day included a passionate talk on the history of early communist revolutionaries, a pledge of allegiance to the communist party, and, of course, a mini-reenactment of the Long March, with stops for photos along the way. “There was also a lot of standing in formation going on and actually very little marching,” Peter says.
Peter’s images, shot with a Canon 5D Mark III, capture the nostalgic spirit of the reenactment. It’s all about reminding today’s Chinese citizens of the sacrifices previous generations have made—so they can, you know, pretend-dodge bullets today.