Red Tourism in Europe

Bustling Beijing
6 min readDec 23, 2020

Why do so many Chinese travel to Trier on the river Moselle? What makes this ancient Roman city a sought-after destination for many politically interested Chinese? And why does China give this city a several meters high statue?

a Status of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels

Unexpected guests

For almost hundred years, China has been one of the great and now the only great communist country on earth. And surely by far the most successful country dedicated to the teachings of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels.

It should be clear that such influence of both men on the country leads to curiosity about their country of origin and in particular their birthplace. So, it is no surprise that many Chinese associate the names of Marx, Engels and Trier with Germany in addition to Neuschwanstein, beer and football and perhaps the few that know Beethoven and Bach. And of course, that damn Austrian guy with the funny beard.

Karl Marx House

Karl Marx House

Many years ago, as a teenager, apart from indulging in Roman relics I visited the Karl Marx House with my parents while on vacation in Trier.

For me, it was just one of the many museums that we were ticking off on our itinerary. Show me the youngster who cares about dusty philosophers of economy?

Then for a moment, some information boards and pictures caught my interest. Why did all these Chinese politicians visit this place? With my background knowledge mainly centered around antiquity, I couldn’t make sense off the information, and my curiosity soon faded.

China was still a faraway place in the 1980s, from where little in-depth information was arriving in Europe. The documentaries on the few television channels showed China as a country of washed-out images of people in blue suits who seemed quite poor in their exotic surroundings.

Red Pilgrimage

It was many years later, when I realized that this little town of Trier, which I only remembered as a former Roman city and a place of excellent wines, has an important place in the hearts of many Chinese and leftists all over the world. Only comparable to what Rome or Jerusalem mean for Christians. It is a place of pilgrimage.

This becomes evident both in the regular travels of high-level members of the Chinese government (always incognito) and in the never-ending stream of ordinary Chinese tourists.

A statue on the road

I only remembered all this, when a statue of Marx by the Chinese artist Wu Weishan (director of the Chinese Art Museum NAMOC in Beijing) was shipped to Trier a few years ago.

Did the Chinese side calculate what vehement protest their gift would cause? But in the end the officials in Germany took it for what it was: a gift from China to Germany and especially to the town of Trier to increase the friendship between these two nations.

A personal Marx

As an outside observer, one might take up a different stance. But Wu Weishan’s attitude clearly shows the importance of Marx and Engels across the country. No pretense visible. It might seem to us as if it was the case. But that is probably because of the way Chinese express things.

Wu Weishan confessed in an interview with The People’s Daily: “Marx has made a significant contribution to the development of human society. The Communist Party of China has adopted Marx’s ideas, further developed Marxism and used it in real life”.

“The great achievements of the country have proved the correctness of Marxism.”

“A Marx, designed by a Chinese artist, will show feeling and warmth within.”

Political malaise

The acceptance of the statue as a gift caused a great deal of excitement and open rejection among some parties and individuals. Many politicians from the non-left political spectrum were concerned that accepting the present could signal they supported China, which they wanted to avoid.

Anyone who follows the political debate of recent years around the world knows that in many countries the old enmity between champions of capitalist and planned economy world order is still in full swing once more.

However, most members of various parties were clearly in favor of accepting the statue with gratitude. This was a gift that did not celebrate the contrast of ideologies, but on the contrary the friendship and cooperation between Germany and China.

With Karl Marx one can assume that this is the most famous Trierer and perhaps one of the most famous Germans ever, at least in East Asia.

His influence on world history is undisputed and so, far from ideological barriers, he can serve as an ambassador and pioneer of an even more intensive cooperation between two countries.

Communism Tourism

Exhibition in Karl Marx House

But the Karl Marx House in Trier is far from the only place that Chinese tourists visit in Europe.

In addition to the usual destinations, there is a trend towards “red” tourism. For example, travel agencies in China offer tours that take travelers to the most important communist locations in Europe like a Grand Tour. These include Moscow and the Red Square, as well as Marx’s tomb in London.

But these tour groups, as all Chinese group trips, are by no means a loosely lumped together bunch of individual travelers. They have one common goal.

Like the pilgrims who wander to places of religious longing and pray there or worship silently, many of these political travelers let lose their zeal and sing communist songs or pay silent tribute to their hero Marx.

Add some Engels

Another highlight in Germany is — how could it be otherwise — a place that adorns itself with the name of Friedrich Engels.

Already in 2014 China had donated a statue of her big son to the city of Wuppertal. There, the Chinese political tourist can then get photographed in front of the statue of Engels with the following quote:

“Labor is the source of all wealth, say political economists. It is this alongside nature, which provides the basics for turning it into wealth. But it is infinitely more. It is the first basic condition of all human life.”

Global Red Tourism

Many places in London, where Marx lived for a few years, are also among the stops for Chinese tourists. The place where the famous Capital was written for a disciple of Marx probably as intense an aura as Jerusalem and Rome for a Christian or Jerusalem and Mecca for a Muslim.

Cuba and North Korea are also on the agenda. And of course, a whole branch of the Chinese tourism industry is concentrating on trips to the important sites of communist history within the vast middle kingdom.

Mao’s birthplace and places on the trail of the long march are on the agenda, as is the founding location of the Chinese Communist Party in Shanghai.

Just do it

And why not. Every person has his or her convictions and even though many might judge disparagingly. Beliefs are real.

And those who rashly underestimate the convictions of other people will never enter a dialogue and broaden their horizon or that of their interlocutor.

Genuine cooperation and harmonious coexistence can only be created together in an openminded atmosphere.

Especially in these turbulent times, such a thought may help us to take a step back, to breathe a sigh of relief, and to realize that aggressive rhetoric on the international stage might help certain politicians to let off steam and win votes. But such behavior seems counterproductive to peace in the world.



Bustling Beijing

Long-term German Expat in China. PHD in History. Deep understanding of Chinese Culture. Commentate current Affairs and question the western Stereotype of China.