If there was one message the Chinese authorities wanted to send with Thursday’s military march-past and pageant in Tiananmen Square, it was one of change.
But the grandiose event also reflected what has not changed in China.
This was a thoroughly traditional affair. Phalanxes of goose-stepping soldiers stamped past the reviewing stand on Tiananmen gate in perfect unison. Tanks and missiles and amphibious fighting vehicles lumbered by in their wake, displaying China’s newest military hardware.
In the civilian parade, as an array of young couples danced by, the TV commentator dug deep into the saccharine lexicon of an earlier era to praise “the young people full of passion and energy … pursuing their ideals as the country advances.”
From floats symbolizing industrial might, specially selected “model workers” waved. In the square itself, thousands of students held colored squares above their heads to spell out constantly changing slogans that would have been familiar to audiences 50 years ago: “Listen to the Party’s Orders,” “Socialism is Good,” “Love the People.”
A military band, meanwhile, bashed out old musical favorites such as “There is No New China Without the Chinese Communist Party.”
The tired old slogans were a far cry from the bold and still rather heretical exhortations that appeared in the 1984 parade, as free-market reforms began to take hold. “Time is Money,” declared one float that year. “Efficiency is life.”
Thursday’s show all seemed a bit retro to foreign eyes. And, oddly, one of the Communist Party’s alleged achievements was shielded from foreign ears.
When the “Democracy” float came by – a model of the Great Hall of the People, where China’s parliament meets – the English-language commentary on China Central TV’s English channel went dead. Instead, viewers heard the Chinese commentator intone platitudes in Mandarin about how “our socialist democracy is thriving,” and how “the rule of law is being effectively carried out.”
Could it be that even the normally self-congratulatory television bosses thought that would be too much for an international audience to swallow?
What was life like under 60 years of Chinese Communist Party rule? Read here about four generations of women who have survived – and even prospered – in the People’s Republic.