An Oct. 1 article last Friday on Communist China's 50th-anniversary celebration incorrectly reported when former leader Mao Zedong proclaimed, "The Chinese people have stood up." He made the statement on Sept. 23, 1949. (Published 10/08/1999)
With pomp unprecedented in its half-century of history, Communist China today celebrated the 50th anniversary of its founding with a spectacular five-mile-long parade designed to highlight the nation's emerging military power, the success of the Communist Party and the authority of President Jiang Zemin.
More than 500,000 carefully chosen people participated in a painstakingly choreographed celebration that aimed to show the world--and the rest of China--the righteousness of party rule. The parade, which involved 90 floats depicting China's industrial power, the heroism of its people and national achievements yet to come, among many other things, focused chiefly on advances the world's most populous country has made since it came under Communist rule in 1949 after a lengthy civil war.
As the parade's centerpiece, party leaders wheeled out 400 military vehicles and 25 different weapons systems, including a new missile that can reach Alaska and a new fighter-bomber. The display was seen as a blunt warning that China's patience may be wearing thin in its 50-year quest to recover Taiwan--the island where China's former ruling party, the Nationalists of Chiang Kai-shek, retreated in 1949 and which Beijing considers a renegade province.
More than 10,000 soldiers in white gloves strutted past the reviewing stand in Tiananmen Square, saluting President Jiang and other assembled party leaders. Squadrons of warplanes flying low over the square punctuated the celebration with a dramatic crescendo.
The parade was replete, too, with the sort of political theater long associated with Maoist ideology, now largely discredited in the current climate of economic reform. No random spectators were allowed to view the scores of gaily colored floats that coursed for two hours down the Boulevard of Eternal Peace. No overweight children were among the goose-stepping young students. Women participants were picked for their beauty; soldiers were carefully selected for height, polish and marching skill. And all were chosen on the basis of their "love of the motherland," Chinese officials said.
The celebration marked the first time since 1984 that Beijing has staged such a large parade. Tens of thousands of security police fanned out through the capital to counter any dissent, and about a half-dozen members of the banned Falun Gong spiritual movement were arrested Wednesday as they attempted a protest in Tiananmen Square. Police dogs were busy sniffing throughout central Beijing, reflecting concerns about the possibility of terrorist attacks by Islamic separatists fighting for an independent homeland in northwestern China.
Beijing Mayor Liu Qi pledged that nothing would go amiss. "Security work should top the agenda," the Beijing Daily quoted him as saying. "We must all be vigilant. We must not be numb or careless."
Wang Ning, an events coordinator, said the parade was designed to show the "earth-shaking changes" that have transpired in China, especially in the past 20 years.
The civilian portion of the procession was divided into three segments--one focused on the revolution; another on the economic reforms that started here in 1978; and the third on China's future. In the second category, there were floats devoted to China's massive--and controversial--Three Gorges Dam project; to Chinese gains in military research, including nuclear-weapons technology; and to the nation's prowess in sports, summed up in a float crowded with Olympic medal winners. The last float was devoted to the exploration of space--a feat China has yet to accomplish.
The parade and a number of concurrent cultural events were marked as well by a blend of national nostalgia and amnesia. None of the floats devoted to the early days of the revolution told China's harsher stories, such as that of the 30 million people who died during China's "Great Leap Forward," a labor-intensive industrialization campaign of four decades ago, or of the millions purged during the 10-year "Cultural Revolution," an ideological crusade against "revisionist thinking" that ended in 1976.
There were, however, elaborately colored floats depicting Chinese fashion, the well-being of China's minority peoples, the wisdom of China's one-child policy, as well as cacophonous lion dancers, green-clad women with yellow umbrellas and thousands and thousands more--all flowing past Jiang against the backdrop of tens of thousands of schoolchildren dressed in color-coordinated outfits.
The primary political aspect of the parade was to highlight Jiang as China's new supreme leader, in the same way that the 1984 parade underscored Deng Xiaoping's growing control over the party machine. No longer simply first among equals, Jiang dominated the show with a speech from the rostrum of the Gate of Heavenly Peace, the spot where Communist state founder Mao Zedong declared on Oct. 1, 1949, that "the Chinese people have stood up."
In his address, Jiang cloaked himself in the mantle of his revolutionary elders, Mao and Deng. "Let us hold high the great banner of Marxism, Leninism, Mao Zedong Thought and Deng Xiaoping Theory and march bravely toward our sublime objectives," Jiang proclaimed, standing directly under a portrait of Mao.
Jiang's increased prominence was further underscored in the parade. As it began, he emerged in a black Mao-style suit to review an honor guard in clear imitation of Deng in 1984. Later, he was the only living Chinese leader with a float dedicated to him; it carried a massive portrait of the president and followed floats devoted to Mao and Deng.
But Western and Chinese analysts say Jiang is not yet seen as having the political heft to join Mao and Deng in the pantheon of Communist leaders. Mao united the country; Deng launched it on the road to economic development and negotiated the return of Hong Kong and Macao to Chinese rule. Jiang has accomplished little by comparison so far.
That is where Taiwan--and a new sense of Chinese nationalism--came in as a theme of the parade. With the fading of doctrinaire ideology here, the party has attempted to substitute patriotism for Marxism in its quest to remain relevant and retain power.
CAPTION: Chinese tanks roll past Beijing's Tiananmen Square during a painstakingly choreographed, five-mile-long parade marking 50 years of Communist rule.
CAPTION: From left, Vice President Hu Jintao, Premier Zhu Rongji, President Jiang Zemin and parliament leader Li Peng watch the parade and applaud.