Goose-stepping woldiers and missiles on flatbed trucks paraded through 11 cities in China this weekend for the first time in 22 years, marking a new campaign by China's leaders to renew the morale of armed forces that were a symbol of the revolution.
Once infused with power and a romantic spirit byu its founder, the late party chairman, Mao Tse-Tung, China's military has been deliberately diminished in status in recent years by the nation's leadership and has suffered from declining enlistments, discipline and morale.
Alarmed by this developments, the Communist Party began an effort to burnish the military's image last month. It has celebrated the 54th anniversary of the People's Liberation Army with a week of banquets and awards culminating in the martial parades, which have not occurred on Chinese holidays since before the government broke relations with the Soviet Union in 1959.
Perhaps most significantly, the party leadership has recently installed its principal political leader, Deng Xiaoping, as chairman of the commission that controls the military. Ironically, Deng has fashioned policies form the previous three years that chipped away at the once unchallenged power of the 4.5 million-member armed forces, the largest in the world.
The military's august image first began dissolving in 1971, when China's top commanders were charged with plotting with the defense minister at the time, Lin Biao, to assassinate Mao. They were convicted last year after a trial embarrassing to the armed forces.
Deng reduced the military's budget the last two years, ordered up to a third of its forces trimmed, eliminated many Army benefits and limited steel production needed for military equipment. He also had an ally, Geng Biao, appointed the nation's first civilian defense minister so that plans to modernize the Army and rid it of its still-popular guerrilla war concepts would be implemented.
Finally, Deng won an important battle with old-line military leaders last month when the party issued a document criticizing its hers, Mao.
Now, in an effort to restore the high morale of Mao's day, top military and political officials has publicly praised the armed forces in recent weeks for their role in liberating China in 1949 and for defending it today.
Not surprisingly, four of the cities chosen for the parades are located close to China's border with hostile neighbors, according to news accounts reaching here today.
Several soldiers guarding China's hostile border with Vietnam were decorated for bravery this week, and the official press has carried numerous flattering commentaries about the Army.
Despite the criticism of Mao's later years, the late chairman has been praised for his military thinking -- the party's theoretical journal Red Flag called it a "treasure of the Chinese people."
Military units around the nation have been drilling since May 1, apparently preparing for the military parades this weekend in Peking and 10 other cities, diplomatic sources said.
yin the northeast city of Shenyang near the Soviet border, 6,400 troops reportedly marched, including a rocket-launcher unit that fought in the Sino-Soviet border clash of 1969.
At the northwestern end of the heavily armed Sino-Soviet border, the city of Urumqi hosted a parade of 7,000 soldiers marching in 59 phalanxes, according the news reports.
It the southern seaport of Zhanjiang close to China's disputed border with Vietnam, warships were reported to have "lined the coast while sailors stood in formation on deck."
"Shen steamboats carrying reviewers approached," said the official New China News Agency, "the ships sounded their whistles and commanders and fighters shouted their pledge of serving the people."
The city of Fuzhou across the strait of Formosa from ytaiwan was reported to have had a ceremny in the city square highlighted by a parade of 5,000 soldiers.
Television reports of the Fuzhou parade showed soldiers several rows abreast kicking up their legs in the goose-step style. Missiles and artillery were carried on the back of trucks.
Diplomatic observers and analysts said that the congratulatory treatment of the past week may temporarily boost esprit de corsp, but it is unlikely to have a lasting effect as long as Deng continues to give military modernization a lower priority then agricultural and industrial development.
The analysts said the long-awaited plans by China to restore military rank would go far in easing the discipline problems. The military abandoned rank in 1966 as an act of egalitarianism, and all soldiers now wear uniforms that do not distinguish officers from enlisted men.
Although Chinese sources repeatedly predict a restoration of rank, a formal decision has been held up for more than a year because of political infighting, according to foreign military analysts.