A Family of The Red Boat

 February 18, 2024


In 1921, the first National Congress of the Communist Party of China concluded on a boat on Nanhu Lake in Jiaxing, a city in east China's Zhejiang Province. Zhang Yi's family shares a special emotional "bond" with the boat. Zhang Xinzhi, Zhang Yi's father, previously worked at Nanhu Revolutionary Memorial Hall. His duties included protecting and repairing the Red Boat (a replica of the original one). Xu Jinqiao, Zhang Yi's mother, was a docent at the memorial, where she was responsible for telling stories related to the Red Boat. Zhang Yi currently works as a Red Boat docent. Therefore, her family has been referred to as "a family of the Red Boat" by visitors and locals alike. 


Zhang Xinzhi worked for the memorial for more than 30 years before he retired, in 2018. His most important duty was helping to protect the Red Boat. 

As Zhang Yi recalls her childhood memories, she says her father talked about the Red Boat much of the time. Each year, during the heat of the summer, Zhang Xinzhi, and his colleagues, carefully removed each component of the boat, so they could apply tung oil on the components to keep them in good working order, and then, they reassembled the components. They took turns — over seven days and nights — protecting the boat when a typhoon was on the way. 


In winter, if the boat was covered with heavy snow, Zhang Xinzhi did not hesitate to get into the chilly lake to clean the snow off the boat. 

Xu is a third generation docent at Nanhu Revolutionary Memorial Hall, who specializes in telling visitors about the Red Boat. Xu was a Jiaxing Peking Opera Troupe actress before she became a docent. She applied for a job at the memorial in 1984, after the opera troupe was dissolved. For more than three decades, Xu has studied CPC's history, and she has made full use of her artistic talent; for example, by rewriting the commentary about the Red Boat into song form, to make it more appealing to visitors. Over time, Xu became a firstclass docent. Zhang Yi says her mother looks the most beautiful when she is telling stories about the Red Boat.


Following her parents' career path, Zhang Yi applied for a job at the memorial in 2009, after she graduated from university. Based on her work experiences, as a docent, she has gained a deeper understanding of her parents' enthusiasm, and their persistence in their careers. If Zhang Yi encounters a difficulty and becomes depressed, her parents encourage her to move on. The Red Boat is a frequently mentioned topic when she and her parents are chatting at home.

After more than 10 years of hard work, Zhang Yi has become a good Red Boat docent, in the new era. While at work, she has met many impressive visitors. "A veteran once said, with reverence, visiting the Red Boat had been the greatest wish he had hoped to come true in his lifetime," Zhang Yi recalls.


What does the spirit of the Red Boat stand for? This question has significant meaning for Zhang Yi and her parents, who vow to safeguard the boat. 

"As an ordinary worker, I think fulfilling my duty well is the best way I can practice the spirit of the Red Boat," says Zhang Xinzhi. 

"I think the spirit of the Red Boat is a spirit that emphasizes one's willingness to make contributions. We should never forget our original aspiration," Xu says. 


Adds Zhang Yi: "I am the one who has received the 'relay baton' from my parents. Bearing my aspiration from a family of the Red Boat, I believe I shoulder the glorious mission of carrying forward the great founding spirit of the Party, and the spirit of the Red Boat. I will make full use of my life to continue strengthening my emotional 'bond' with the Red Boat, and with Nanhu Lake." 

Zhang Yi's family was named a National Most Beautiful Family in 2023. Many people, who have learned the family's stories, have said they will strengthen their aspiration to pass on the spirit of the Red Boat.


Photos from Interviewees

(Women of China English Monthly January 2024 issue)


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