Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The 60th anniversary of the People's Republic of China

Yesterday was the sixtieth anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China, a momentous occasion here in Beijing. The first of october, China's national day, is a holiday every year, but this year it is a particularly big affair, because it is the sixtieth one. The city has been gearing up for the occasion for weeks, with phrases like 欢度国庆 (happy national day) and the number 60 visible everywhere, as well as lots of Chinese flags.

The day was marked by a huge parade in Tiananmen square. Of course, it was near impossible for ordinary people such as me to even get anywhere near the square (the subway stations nearby had not been in use since the previous afternoon), so I have watched the event on television, just like most Chinese people.

In the few days before the event the air was particularly heavy and polluted in Beijing and the visibility was highly reduced, but on the previous evening some rain (which apparently was artifically induced by the authorities) managed to clear the air in time for the parade. Watching the lovely blue sky, I wish the authorities would do this to the weather more often!

The parade was truly impressive, with countless numbers of people in Tiananmen waving placards of different coulours so as to form different shapes or Chinese characters, and lenghty parades of different army units, groups of students, representatives of ethnic minorities and what not. Chairman Hu Jintao was of course the star of the occasion, going round in a car to review the troups and giving a little speech. The former chairman Jiang Zemin was standing close behind him on the podium, which was in front of the forbidden city. I was pleased to find that I could understand bits of the speech and the commentaries on television. Words like "renmin" (the people), "fazhan" (development) and "Xin Zhongguo" (the New China) kept cropping up.

Watching the military parade and the smiling crowds, I felt caught between my European left-wing suspicion and dislike of great military parades and my understanding of the fact that most Chinese feel genuinly enthusiastic about the occasion and are not at all cynical about it. I am sure that most of the students of my university who were not selected to take part in the parade would have felt absolutely honoured to be able to do so. I am also aware that the military parade is not perceived as a show of aggresiveness directed towards other countries, but simply as a display of China's might. Plus, the revolution whose anniversary is being celebrated was a genuinly progressive affair which brought change and improvement to most Chinese, whatever happened later.

Watching the images of the event on television, I realized that I could finally read and understand the Chinese sentences on the two big red placards which sit on either side of Mao's portrait infront of the forbidden city. One sentence reads 中国人民共和国万岁("long live the People's Republic of China", or literally "ten thousand years for the People's Republic of China") and the other one reads 世界人民大团结万岁 (long live the unity of the world's peoples).

In the evening a big show was held in the square, with lots of singing and dancing and fireworks. Watching it on television, what I found particularly impressive were the people waving coloured placards and flags to create different shapes in the center of the square. The impression of moving images which they managed to create from above was simply astonishing, and must have taken months of non-stop practice. I have never seen anything quite like it. Then again, the Chinese are always good at coreography and at putting on a show.

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