China celebrates 50 years of communism
Today's big bash in Beijing features parades, fireworks, and a tight
the 50th-anniversary celebration the People's Republic of China is staging this weekend is in many ways a play within a play, a metaphor for the sweeping changes and ongoing controls that have shaped the planet's most populous nation as it prepares to enter the next millennium.Skip to next paragraph
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Today the world's television cameras are beaming out images of a tightly scripted, Soviet-style military parade, jet-fighter fly-bys, elaborate pyrotechnics, and ethnic minorities pledging their allegiance to the Communist Party in song and dance.
The handpicked performers and audience gathered at Tiananmen Square, the symbolic heart of modern China, will revel in the revolution's birthday, conveying the impression that all is well in the People's Republic.
Yet behind the scenes, the party's police and propaganda organs have been working around the clock to ensure that none of the dissidents, dispossessed, or other malcontents lurking backstage will steal the limelight during this weekend's festivities. Beggars common on the streets of Beijing were being detained on the eve of the celebration, just as pro-democracy advocates, labor activists, and suspect religious leaders have been rounded up in an ongoing nationwide crackdown.
Most mobile telephones, pagers, and Internet access will go dead in the capital to ensure that the party's birthday plays as planned, and many residents have been cautioned to stay indoors. The martial law-style regulations are a throwback to a more dictatorial era, before the twin policies of market reforms and opening to the world fostered growing spheres of economic, cultural, and personal freedoms for many Chinese 20 years ago.
Yet many ordinary citizens now reviewing a half century of communism here are predominantly concerned about how to avoid repeating history. Most Chinese have their focus squarely on the next century, and those interviewed for this article have mixed views about China's evolution over coming decades.
Wang Dan, the former student leader of pro-democracy protests that rocked China a decade ago, says that the party must resolve its past mistakes if it hopes to pave the way for a period of national reconciliation and peace.
Mr. Wang was jailed for nearly seven years after Army troops and tanks crushed the peaceful 1989 Tiananmen Square protests. He has been a student at Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass., since being released and forced into exile last year. Wang says that "the political system and realm of freedoms have gone backward since 1989."
Indeed, China often seems to take two steps forward and one back in politics, and halting efforts to shape a system ruled by law are often swept away when it comes to jailing dissidents.
While Beijing last year signed the UN's Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, since then it has imprisoned or detained dozens of leaders of the fledgling China Democracy Party.