This term, which literally translates as “red rivers and mountains,” derives from the full phrase “the red country will never change its color” (红色江山永不变色). The term originated in 1965, and rose rapidly during the Cultural Revolution starting in 1966. Referencing the class nature of the Chinese Communist Party as the representative of the people, it is a call for the Party to remember its revolutionary roots, as well as a claim to the continued rule of the CCP and its socialist ideology.
From 1980 through to the end of 2012, a period spanning more than three decades of reform and opening, the term appeared in just 19 articles in the People’s Daily. Most of these were historical references to the early days of the communist movement in China. The most prominent use of the term during this time came in a speech by Jiang Zemin to a national conference of party schools in June 2000. Jiang said:
The continuous training of young and middle-aged leaders has long been a strategic task for our Party. Comrade Mao Zedong and Comrade Deng Xiaoping both emphasized this work from the heights of [ensuring] the success of the Party’s cause and that the blood of tens of millions of martyrs for the red country will never change color.
Several other references in the People’s Daily in subsequent years referred back to this speech, including the announcement of the publication of Jiang’s collected works in 2006.
The phrase has also been used to signal the loyalty of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) to the CCP. When PLA General Wang Guanzhong (王冠中) wrote a piece for the newspaper in November 2007 discussing the “spirit” of Hu Jintao’s recent political report to the 17th National Congress, he said that “as a people’s army led by the Party, our army must always listen to the Party and follow the Party, consolidating the Party’s ruling position and ensuring that the socialist red country never changes color.”
The last piece including the term “red country” before the Xi era came on August 4, 2011. It was historical in focus, talking about the importance achieving the “red country” had for the contemporary development of China — similar to language to the effect that without the CCP there could be no modern China. The piece, called “Let Old Traditions Blossom Into ‘Flowers of the Era,’” was prescient.
During a visit to Hebei province in July 2013, Xi Jinping visited Xibaipo (西柏坡), a township under Shijiazhuang known as a revolutionary site, and now a frequent destination for “red tourism.” Xibaipo was an important CCP base during China’s civil war in the 1940s. Addressing his hosts in Xibaipo, Xi said that the CCP must never lose sight of its service to the people, taking the needs and views of the people as its “test,” “so that our Party will never change its nature and our red country will never change color.”
Since Xi’s address in Xibaipo, the phrase “red country” has appeared in more than 150 articles in the People’s Daily.
During a visit to Liaoning province in August 2022, Xi Jinping said: “Our red country is the result of the blood and lives of millions of revolutionary martyrs. The country [the rivers and mountains] is the people, and the people are the country. We will never allow the country to change color, and the people will never agree.”