CHANGSHA, Oct. 24 (Xinhua) -- It was lunchtime when Tang Ruiren, 88, in a traditional red Chinese dress and high heels, walked up to a stage in the front of a restaurant and addressed the crowd.
"You are guests to Chairman Mao's hometown, thank you for coming here," Tang said. She then went on to tell stories of Chairman Mao Zedong in the city of Shaoshan, his hometown in central China's Hunan Province.
Tang is the founder of Maojia Restaurant, literally meaning "the restaurant of the Maos". Over the years, the Shaoshan-based eatery has set up more than 300 franchises across China and sells some of the dishes claimed to be favorites of Chairman Mao.
Its Shaoshan location is a popular place for tourists to Mao's hometown. The store has a life-size golden Mao sculpture, and Mao's portrait and poems hang in frames around the eatery.
Adding to the Mao theme is Tang herself, who tells Mao's stories and recites his classical works for her guests each and every day.
In 2017, the city of Shaoshan saw around 20.5 million visitors, bringing in more than 6 billion yuan (around 864 million U.S. dollars).
Tang partly attributed the restaurant's success to the country's reform and opening up that started four decades ago. "It is a policy that has brought prosperity for the country and the people," Tang said.
In 1984, Tang began to sell food, secretly, as people in business were considered selfish and profit-driven back when China began its reform and opening up.
Her first business venture was selling porridge to tourists outside of Chairman Mao's residence, but she only dared sell to visitors. Whenever a fellow villager was nearby, she hid behind a tree. She forgot how much she earned that day, but the remarks of one visitor struck her. "He told me 'it is good to earn money and support yourself.'" As a result, she carried on, and her business grew bigger. In 1987, she opened the Maojia Restaurant. The restaurant began selling pre-packaged food in 2008, including red-braised pork and fire baked fish. The products are now available on online platforms such as Tmall and JD.com.
"The success of the Maojia Restaurant has inspired many villagers here," said Mao Yushi, first secretary of Shaoshan village CPC committee, "Many people also started businesses of their own."
Restaurants and guesthouse have sprung up due to the booming local tourism. In recent years, more people have started selling fruit online and offering bed and breakfast services for tourists.
The village's per capita disposable income has reached nearly 24,000 yuan in 2017, almost 300 times that of 1978.
Owning a car in the village used to be as important as buying a new house that merited an important celebration with firecrackers and a get-together.
"Now it is common," Mao said, "Almost every home owns at least one car."