Beijing Mao-era restaurant leaves locals seeing red

2008-04-06 05:52:49 Xinhua English

BEIJING, April 6 (Xinhua) -- Waitresses in green army uniforms and red "Serve the People" armbands salute customers and greet them with "I swear to Chairman Mao that I will serve you with all my heart."

The young women, mostly about 20 years old, then usher the customers through the main entrance of the Mao-era restaurant, whose facade resembles a bunch of books, the "Collected Works of Mao Zedong", set in the middle of a red flag.

But the "Red Flag Fluttering" eatery, which opened in south Beijing's Daxing District last year, could be starting a revolution among locals, who are questioning the taste of its theme more than its food.

The interior is a throwback to the days of the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), with huge portraits of Mao, posters lauding the late Chinese leader, statues of workers, peasants and soldiers -- the three groups Mao said were pillars of Chinese society.

Even the names of the dishes feature the Mao-era -- and one dish with fried pork and red chili is called "the whole country is red".

"I don't really know much about the Cultural Revolution. I was born 10 years after Mao died," said one waitress in a "Red Guard" uniform. "But our boss says we must learn Mao's quotations by heart and dance the 'loyalty dance'."

The "loyalty dance", a legacy of the Cultural Revolution, features a group of dancers in army uniforms and with the "Little Red Book" (Mao's quotations) in hand. The postures are rather rigid and simple: holding both hands high to show faith in Mao, making bow steps to indicate determination to follow him and clenching fists symbolizing their revolutionary fervor.

The performance starts at 7:30 p.m. every day, no matter how few diners are seated.

Restaurant owner and manager Huang Zhen personally instructs the dancers. "Make sure you salute, not bow, when someone presents you a bouquet," he said.

At 55, Huang is one of the few restaurant workers who experienced the Cultural Revolution. "I just want to recreate some historical scenes so that people can remember the past," he said.

But not everyone thought it was a good idea.

"The 'Red Guard' uniforms are disgusting," said an elderly woman who complained to the Beijing Youth Daily newspaper. "They remind me of the unpleasant past. What's the point of remembering that period of history that should have long been forgotten?"

The woman, who gave only her surname as Li, said a friend had booked a lunch for her and at least 10 other elderly people there on Saturday. "One of us who suffered a lot during the Cultural Revolution felt extremely uncomfortable, so we all left without eating anything."

Manager Huang told the newspaper his own father was persecuted during the Cultural Revolution. "But that's no excuse. We should not forget or avoid that period of history."

Huang himself was not available for an interview on Sunday.

A hostess who answered the phone said business was not very good except on weekends and holidays. The dishes cost about 20 to 40 yuan each, which is not expensive according to Beijing standards.

She said she was not aware of the customers' complaints.

An elderly resident who lives close to the restaurant said the restaurant runner was simply "making fun of history". "I can understand his intention to make the place unique, but this is not the right way to do it."

But many young people find the restaurant interesting and often recommend the place to their parents. Though photography is banned in the restaurant, some diners still snap photos with their cell phones.

"It's a very nice place. Highly recommendable," reads one Internet posting by "Monkey King" on the online forum qianlong.com. "The singing and dancing are far too passe, but my parents enjoyed them very much."