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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Shanghai's Historical Museum Keeps Communist Values Alive

SHANGHAI, China -- Surrounded by staples of global capitalism like McDonald's and Benetton, a shrine to China's enduring faith in communism still stands -- and still thrives.

The little museum on the site of the ruling Communist Party's first conference 81 years ago lauds the revolutionary roots of the party, even while its present leaders gather this week in Beijing to further embrace the economic reforms that have transformed China from a sluggish command economy to an economic powerhouse and rising power.

The museum's setting -- in the heart of the most fashionable district of China's most fashionable city -- symbolizes the country's current meld of obeisance to communist tradition and passionate embrace of market values.

"Some of the old comrades might have had a problem with it, but it's no big deal for the younger generation," says Zhang Jianwei, deputy secretary of the museum's administrative office. "We don't see any conflict between the party and the market economy."

In July 1921, a dozen men gathered in the upper floor of the brick building, then a girls' school. They debated a party constitution and platform and elected a secretary general. The congress set in motion the party's eventual sweep to national power.

Today, an enormous red party flag emblazoned with a golden hammer and sickle stands over the entrance to the building. Schoolchildren wearing red Communist Young Pioneers scarves dutifully scribble notes from captions accompanying the exhibits.

One plaque spells out the party's founding goals like an ideological shopping list: Overthrow private capital, end class divisions and unite with the world revolutionary movement -- sentiments that haven't been heard in mainstream Chinese political life for two decades.

The museum draws more than 1,000 visitors a day, many of them drawn by historical interest or cultural curiosity.

Around a table laden with papers, books and a tea set, founding members who attended that long-ago meeting are remembered in life-size wax effigies. One, a minor figure at that 1921 meeting, stands in the center, posed as if delivering a speech.

His name: Mao Zedong.