China celebrates with elaborate display of power and ideology

 

CHINA UNDERLINED its new status as a global power with a parade that included everything from a detachment of women soldiers in purple minidresses and carrying machine-guns; nuclear missiles; lessons in ideological correctness and elaborate fireworks.

Here to mark the 60th anniversary of the world’s most enduring communist nation were People’s Liberation Army soldiers in short mauve skirts, white jackboots and carrying machine pistols, goose-stepping at 116 steps a minute.

The sight raised a round of applause from the country’s supreme leader, President Hu Jintao, who was the hero of the hour.

The tanks and rocket launchers, and smartly turned-out children waving flags and banners, symbolised a country in robust economic health, while the rest of the world still grapples with the great recession.

When it came to celebrating six decades of communist rule in China, even the weather played along. Rain had been forecast, but in the end a gap opened in the clouds early in the day above Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, thanks no doubt to careful seeding of the clouds, and viewers were bathed in gorgeous sunshine for one of the most remarkable spectacles ever staged.

As the Olympics taught us, no one, but no one, does these events like China.

Eight thousand soldiers, new models of tanks and missiles, 60 gaudy floats and 100,000 frenzied civilians stirred the hearts of hundreds of millions watching on television across the country. Fireworks sealed the deal later in the evening.

President Hu abandoned his usual blue two-piece suit in favour of a sharp, dark-grey ensemble known as officially as a Sun Yat-sen suit, after the great Nationalist leader who founded the Chinese Republic in 1911, but the fact that it was a style also favoured by Chairman Mao means you can call it a Mao suit too.

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. Thanks for your hard work” to thousands of soldiers, their faces set in the same fixed expression of ardour and belief. They responded: “Hail to the leader. Serve the people.”

“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 nothing was left to chance – a massive security campaign and a crackdown on dissidents all over the country ensured smooth running of the event.

It was also a showcase for a country that in the last 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 the country’s new political role as a regional superpower. This diplomatic muscle is built on China’s economic rise in the last three decades and the country’s emergence into an economy seen as a saviour for the rest of the world.

This parade was pure Cold War spectacle, but it outSovieted the Soviets and put even the North Koreans to shame.

China is a country well on track for over eight per cent economic growth this year, propped up by one of the biggest fiscal stimulus plans the world has ever seen, where bank landing accounted for a staggering 25 per cent of gross domestic product in the first half of this year.

Gazing down on the parade was Chairman Mao, the founding father of the People’s Republic of China.

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 leader through the crowds. It broadcast a message outlining his version of stakeholder capitalism: “Work hard to achieve new victories in building a moderately prosperous society in all respects and write a new chapter of happy life for the people!”