China marked six decades of Communist rule with a parade that had everything – a detachment of women soldiers carrying machine guns and wearing purple mini-skirts, lessons in ideological correctness, nuclear missiles and elaborate fireworks, all of which underlined China's powerful new role in the world.
Even the weather played ball. Rain was forecast for the 60th anniversary of the world's most enduring Communist nation, but in the end a gap opened in the clouds early in the day above central Beijing's Tiananmen Square, thanks no doubt to careful "seeding" of the clouds, and spectators were bathed in gorgeous sunshine for one of the most remarkable spectacles ever staged.
As the 2008 Olympics taught us, no one, but no one, does these events like the Chinese. Eight thousand soldiers, tanks and missiles, 60 gaudy floats and 100,000 rapt civilians stirred the hearts of hundreds of millions watching on televisions throughout the country. Fireworks sealed the deal later in the evening.
Here were People's Liberation Army soldiers, sporting mauve mini-skirts, white jackboots and machine guns. The sight raised a round of applause from the country's supreme leader, President Hu Jintao. The tanks and rocket-launchers, and smartly presented children waving flags and banners, proclaimed a country in robust economic health while the rest of the world struggles through a recession.
President Hu abandoned his usual blue two-piece in favour of a sharp, dark-grey ensemble known as a "Sun Yat-sen suit", after the great nationalist leader who founded the Chinese republic in 1911, a style also favoured by Chairman Mao. The President's upper body stuck rigidly out of a Red Flag limousine as he drove along Chang'an Avenue shouting "I salute you, comrades" to thousands of soldiers, their faces set in the same fixed expression of ardour and belief.
"The development and progress of the new China has fully proved that only socialism can save China. We will unswervingly continue to follow the policy of socialism with Chinese characteristics," he said in his keynote address. This was very much a day out for the cadres and the model workers, and the ground was laid for a successful parade by a massive security campaign and a crackdown on dissidents all over China.
It was also a showcase for a nation that in the past 30 years has gone from a dusty, closed backwater unable to feed its population, to the world's third-biggest economy. The display highlighted China's much vaunted "soft power" backed by formidable military strength, underlining her spanking new political role as a regional superpower. But the parade was pure Cold War spectacle.
"I know that there is still a big gap between China and other developed countries," said Zhang Xiaona, 23, an advertising graduate from Heilongjiang and a card-carrying party member. "But I feel China has developed pretty fast. I am proud of our country."
Gazing down on the parade was Chairman Mao, the founding father of the People's Republic, the Great Helmsman who steered the Communist course for many years. His portrait also featured on a float borne aloft through the crowds. But the real star of yesterday's parade was Mr Hu.
Unusually for an administration that has sought to distance itself from the cult of personality that caused so much damage in the latter days of the Mao era, a float carried a huge portrait of the President through the crowds.
1949-2009: The dragon's progress
1949 36.5 years
2009 73.5 years
1949 542 million
2009 1.3 billion
1949 36 per thousand
2008 12 per thousand
1949 200 deaths per 1,000 live births
2009 20 per 1,000 live births
Total grain output
1949 113 million tonnes
2008 529 million tonnes
Annual meat consumption
1949 10kg per person
2009 53kg per person
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