Returning home from dinner on the bus last Saturday night, we were halted at the Dongzhimen intersection in downtown Beijing to make way for scores of tanks, armoured assault vehicles and what looked like missile carriers. The mobile units were in camouflaged wrapping, and everyone on the bus was very excited.
With 12,000 troops, 500 pieces of military equipment and 200 aircraft of more than 20 kinds, plus visiting soldiers from 10 countries, China is hoping to mark in some style the 70th anniversary of the Chinese People's War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression, or the second World War, on September 3rd.
Getting off the bus, we and other passengers were held back by dozens of volunteers. The police were angry with the bus driver for letting us off, but the driver shrugged and smoked his cigarette, said it was hot and what was he supposed to do?
So we watched the rehearsal for an hour, before the bus started up again and we sped home, the roads clearer than usual because of a restriction imposed for the duration of the commemoration, involving the alternation of odd and even number plates.
Back home in the Qijiayuan diplomatic compound, a notice had come around asking residents not to invite visitors during the parade period and not to open the windows facing on to Chang’an Avenue – a 10-lane road cutting through Beijing’s heart from east to west – or to stand on the balcony, or take any photographs.
Over 35m died
That didn’t stop us peeking out of the window at the tanks and self-propelled howitzers, unwrapped this time, as they trundled down the wide bicycle lane on Chang’an Avenue, and watching the formation flying of dozens of aircraft, from reconnaissance planes to fighters.
It was hard to identify what models these were, and about 84 per cent of the armaments displayed will never have been seen in public before, according to the parade’s deputy commander, Qu Rui.
It will be the first time China has invited troops of other nations to participate in a military parade, and the event will feature a lengthy procession of goose-stepping soldiers, rumbling tanks and spectacular aerial displays over Chang’an Avenue.
The last big parade in the capital was the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic in 2009, a jaw-dropping display of China’s new self-confidence and emerging military might.
Leaders will watch the parade next week from a dais in front of the Forbidden City. It's the fourth big military parade since 1960, and only the first to not take place on national day, October 1st.
China suffered terribly during the war – more than 35 million people died in the 14 years of war from the Japanese occupation of Manchuria in 1931 until the Japanese surrender. And as the country has become stronger and more self-confident, its rhetoric against the chief aggressor in the East Asian part of the conflict, Japan, has become ever sharper.
Relations between the two Asian giants have long been affected by what Chinese see as Japan’s failure to sufficiently atone for the suffering it caused during the war and as proof of Japan’s failure to say sorry properly, Beijing points to the regular visits by Japanese leaders to the
, which honours 2.5 million Japanese war dead, including war criminals.
So who will attend? There are, incredibly, rumours that Japan's prime minister Shinzo Abe will start a visit to China on September 3rd, the same day as the big parade, though cold water has been poured on this suggestion.
South Korea's president Park Geun-hye will attend the event, though some commentators in her country have criticised her for attending a parade in the country which most recently invaded Korea, during the Korean War 1950-53.
While allies from Mongolia and the Czech Republic will take part, many western countries will not after voicing criticism of China's aggressive military moves in the South China Sea and other regional disputes.
In Sanlitun, home to Beijing’s trendiest malls, some of the high-end shops were closed at the weekend. It’s a long time since Sanlitun was a village, but the district’s hottest mall, the Village, has seen a lot of action in recent weeks.
Beijing airport will close for two hours, the schools will re-open a week later than usual, no flying of drones is permitted, the stock markets will close and all unregistered electric bikes will be seized.
And preparations for the parade are even affecting TV scheduling.
The state broadcast watchdog has ordered the country's top satellite channels and the public broadcaster CCTV not to show popular entertainment shows such as The Voice of China and Up Idol during the anniversary period.
Instead they must show solemn programmes about China’s role in forcing Japanese surrender.