About 700 years ago, a pagoda was built in Yuxi, a small city 90 kilometers outside of Kunming. In 1959, the cigarette company set up in Yuxi and named itself Red Pagoda Hill (红塔山), in honor of the pagoda. Thus, the pagoda has now become an advertisement, complete with a museum in honor of the brand and its parent company. (Red Pagoda is the leading brand under the China Tobacco group.)
Some might question if this museum is a responsible creation, given the harmful effects cigarettes have on the health of so many Chinese and that it took what was originally something of a historical landmark and turned it into an advertisement. The pagoda was first built during the Yuan Dynasty and then rebuilt in 1839. Originally white, it was painted red during the Cultural Revolution.
However, many local people view it with pride as a representation of their key economic industry, like how the citizens of Zhuzhou, Hunan view the railway industry.
Red Pagoda Hill is one of the most popular brands of cigarettes in China. The Red Pagoda Group’s cigarettes make up 12% of China’s market share by volume in 1999, according to Robert Weissman, director of a Washington-based policy group. Yuxi is one of the largest tobacco-producing regions in China, and NPR reports the local government receives 80% of its revenue from tobacco taxes.
Mitchell Blatt is a travel writer, editor, and columnist who has lived and worked in China for six years. He is an author of two guidebooks, Panda Guides Hong Kong and Panda Guides China. He has been published in National Interest.org, USA Today, the South China Morning Post, The Korea Times, Roads & Kingdoms, Vagabond Journey, Silkwinds and The World of Chinese, among other outlets. See examples of his published articles.