China Ink

Raining on the parade

Foreign and Chinese media offer widely differing views on the National Day Parade,
its organisation and its significance.

China's President Hu Jintao in an open top Red Flag car

A well-prepared event?

The Chinese media evidently thought so. The two and a half hour parade went off without a hitch. About 108,000 people marched past Tiananmen Gate saluting the country’s leaders. The event also featured 60 floats that celebrated the diversity of China’s provinces and autonomous regions – as well as its growing industrial might and its green tech revolution. There were also 80,000 school children who held cards – which they switched in mechanical unison to reveal 41 slogans, as well as the dates “1949” and “2009”. The kids spent three months honing their ‘human billboard’ routine, practicing for three hours a day. The China Daily also reported that “the sky was the clearest for any National Day Parade since 1957, thanks to cloud-seeding measures that induced rain the night before.” Controlling the weather? Now that’s preparation.

Too well prepared, seems to be the general view of the foreign press. The BBC’s coverage set the tone, marvelling less at the logistics involved, and focusing instead on the fact that Beijing ordered residents to watch the event on TV rather than go out – so as to “avoid complications”. Those who lived along the parade route were forbidden from looking out their windows, or watching from their balconies, the BBC reported. Armed police in body armour had also taken up “positions at major road junctions” with “security forces deployed in force”– in other words, a lock-down. The South China Morning Post noted that Walmart had been ordered to stop selling kitchen knives ahead of the event – following stabbings the week before in which two died and 14 were injured in Beijing’s touristy Dashilan district. Homing pigeons were also banned from the skies.

So it was deemed a success?

The China Daily thought it was a “day full of incredible moments”. Its headline “Day of Glory: New China shows its pride” sums up the general attitude. Its editorial page noted: “Chinese citizens, who are told by the older generations of the atrocities of the foreign concessions and invasions in the early 20th century, take due pride from their government’s heightened capability to protect citizens’ lives.”

The New York Times said the event was “immense, powerful and flawless”. However, its tone was a little less flattering when it added the parade was a “display of military bravado that included, improbably, a female militia unit toting submachine guns and attired in red miniskirts and white jackboots, and a fleet of floats with representations of a giant fish and Mount Everest.”

There was a clear military angle to the whole thing?

Yes, indeed. The Global Times noted with delight that President Hu Jintao inspected the troops who shouted back, “Greetings, leader”. There were 8,000 troops, and 30 phalanxes of wheeled soldiery on display, it reported, plus “50 types of new weapons systems manufactured by China on its own, including the newest model of intercontinental nuclear-capable ballistic missiles.” And “other cutting edge weaponry” on display included “unmanned aerial vehicles”.

The South China Morning Post noted “the celebrations were intended to send out a clear message that China has re-emerged as a global power.”

Japan’s Nikkei newspaper offered a different perspective on the extravaganza. One of its journalists spoke to a 30 year-old Beijinger who said: “With so many people having trouble just living, I think it odd the government should spend so much money on a military parade.”


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