For a decidedly atheist political organization, China’s ruling Communist Party is fond of talking about its origins in religious terms.

In party literature and state media, former revolutionary bases are labeled “holy sites,” and the almost obligatory visits to such locations by the rank and file are meant to “baptize” members in the Communist “faith.”

“Mao once said that the people are our God,” Wang Dongcang, a professor at the Communist Party’s China Executive Leadership Academy in Yan’an said on May 11. “We believe in leading the people to a better future.”

CNN joined more than two dozen international news outlets on a recent government-organized media tour of Yan’an and Xibaipo, two renowned “red sites” where the once-fledgling Communist Party grew in size and strength before emerging victorious from a bloody civil war to take control of mainland China in 1949.

As the Communist Party counts down to its 100th birthday in July, reinforcing the “red genes” of its 91 million members has become a top priority under Xi Jinping, the party’s current head and the country’s most-powerful leader since Mao Zedong, the…

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