China celebrated its rise to a world power over 60 years of Communist rule on Thursday, staging its biggest-ever parade of military hardware with over a hundred thousand marching masses in a display that stirred patriotism -- and some unease.
Police blocked off a wide area around central Beijing’s Tiananmen Square for the 60th anniversary of the People’s Republic. City residents were told to stay away and watch the events on television.
President Hu Jintao, dressed in a gray Mao tunic instead of the business suit he usually wears, reviewed the thousands of troops and hundreds of tanks and other weaponry, shouting “Hello, comrades” while riding in an open-top, domestically made Red Flag limousine.
During the two-our-plus festivities, dozens of Chinese-made fighter jets were to stage a fly-over.
After the armaments, 60 floats celebrating last year’s Beijing Olympics, China’s manned space programme and other symbols of progress rolled by as tens of thousands of students flipped coloured cards in unison to make pictures.
The events were meant to underscore what the leadership calls the “revival of the great Chinese nation.”
We “have triumphed over all sorts of difficulties and setbacks and risks to gain the great achievements evident to the world,” Mr. Hu later said standing atop Tiananmen gate in a speech that referred to his Communist Party predecessors and China’s success. “Today, a socialist China geared toward modernization, the world and the future towers majestically in the East.”
The feel-good, if heavily scripted moment tapped into Chinese pride surrounding the country’s turnaround from the war-battered, impoverished state the Communists took over in 1949 to the dynamic, third-largest world economy of today.
“I think all 1.3 billion (Chinese) people are happy about this because of our standard of living,” said 53-year-old Xu Deqing, walking in an alley a few blocks off the parade route. “When you compare with 30 years ago ... back then people’s stomachs were empty. Now we have really made it to a higher level.”
Security in Beijing has been intensifying for weeks over worries that protests, which are common in China, or an overexuberant crowd might mar the ceremonies. Parts of central Beijing were sealed off and businesses were told to shut down beginning on Tuesday. Flights in and out of Beijing’s international airport were suspended since Thursday morning. An intensive cloud-seeding operation cleared away the smog that had shrouded Beijing for two days.
The government has customarily held military parades on 10th anniversaries. With China riding high in the world and feeling good about itself after the Beijing Olympics, the 60th was the Hu administration’s chance to score popularity points.
Early this year, before China’s economy rebounded from the global downturn, authorities promised only a modest celebration in keeping with the gloomy times.
The parade is now billed by state media as China’s largest-ever display of weaponry, reminiscent of the Soviet Union, and came with the mass synchronized performances usually associated with North Korea. Alongside the 80,000 card-flippers making 41 pictures, another 100,000 civilians accompanied the floats, many of them with kitschy displays of computers and signs of industry.
Some 5,000 goose-stepping soldiers who rehearsed for five months accompanied the armaments -- new unmanned aerial drones, amphibious fighting vehicles and new DH-10 land-based anti-ship cruise missiles.
The People’s Liberation Army in its newspaper early this year said the event’s meaning was clear: “This military parade is a comprehensive display of the Party’s ability to rule and of the overall might of the nation.”
Geremie Barme, a China scholar at Australian National University who has studied past National Day parades, said the displays are typically aimed at the domestic audience -- Communist Party officials and ordinary Chinese. “It is meant to educate, excite, unite and entertain. If a tad of ‘shock and awe’ is delivered around the world, all well and good,” he said.