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Chinese vow to keep red flag flying on party's 90th birthday

China's Communist Party celebrated its 90th birthday yesterday with propagandist songs, Chairman Mao-themed events and a stern warning from President Hu Jintao that the economy must keep growing for it to retain its grip on power.

The coverage of events on state broadcaster CCTV was frenetic, showing people gathering in parks to sing in praise of the party and gathering in large halls around the country to clap frantically to mark the anniversary.

Chinese leaders ramped up this year's celebrations for the party's founding –as they did for the 2008 Beijing Olympics and the 60th anniversary of the People's Republic – to excite the public and broaden the government's appeal. "Without stability, nothing can be accomplished, and the achievements that we have made will be lost. All of the party's comrades must take this message to heart, and they must also lead all the people to take this to heart," Mr Hu told an audience of senior party faithful in the Great Hall of the People, stressing that stability was the party's paramount task. Hundreds of millions watched the speech online.

"Only by promoting both healthy and fast economic development can we secure a strong material foundation for the great revival of the Chinese nation."

"Revival" has been one of the buzzwords of the 90th anniversary celebrations, as it is also mentioned in the title of "Beginning of the Great Revival", the great propaganda epic that the party has bankrolled to celebrate the anniversary.

The anniversary comes against a backdrop of arrests and detentions of dissidents, human rights lawyers and long-time protesters,after calls online for similar protests in China to the ones that have swept the Arab world. Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo languishes in jail, while the controversial artist Ai Weiwei and HIV/Aids campaigner Hu Jia have recently been set free under what appear to be strict conditions.

The party is enormously popular in China. Last year the number of party members swelled to 80.27 million, an increase of more than two million from 2009. Next year is a big year for the party. Mr Hu will hand over the reins as president to Vice-President Xi Jinping, while Premier Wen Jiabao will be replaced by Li Keqiang.

The party is a legendarily secretive body, so all of these succession facts have been gleaned from the order in which the party elite joins the podium during one of the annual parliaments.

Mr Hu also acknowledged that China was facing challenges arising from social change. Last year China experienced 280,000 so-called "mass incidents", including petitions, demonstrations and strikes, both peaceful and violent. They were largely linked to anger over corruption and other forms of abuse of power such as illegal land seizures. "The whole party must see with crystal clarity that the conditions facing the world, the country and party are undergoing profound changes, and that under these new circumstances we face unprecedented new circumstances and challenges," he said.