The parade along Beijing’s Chang’an Jie was predictably impressive. Celebrating 60 years since the establishment of the People’s Republic of China, rows of tanks and impeccably uniformed soldiers marched past party leaders standing at Tiananmen as jets left colorful trails in the conveniently blue sky.
Unlike previous parades, this one was notable for the absence of foreign technology. The jets were no longer Russian Sukhois, but included Chinese-made J-10 fighters, as China showed off its advances to audiences at home and abroad. While there were fewer soldiers at the 60th anniversary than the 50th – 5,000 instead of 24,000 – they were better equipped.
Although much foreign media coverage focused on the military aspects of the event – and although state news agency Xinhua issued breathless stories about the "remarkable symbols of China’s defense muscle" that were the nuclear-capable intercontinental ballistic missiles on parade – organizers ensured that hardware was only a part of the show.
The standard slogans of President Hu Jintao’s "Scientific Development Concept" were on display, as Beijing tried to show continuity between Hu’s ideology and those of his predecessors: Jiang Zemin’s "Three Represents," Deng Xiaoping Theory and Mao Zedong Thought. Jiang himself was present at Hu’s side.
There was a particular focus on the goal of building a harmonious society. While ethnic tensions in Xinjiang remain high following inter-ethnic violence this summer, Beijing was keen to present a picture of racial harmony. Parade floats celebrating environmental protection and showing off alternative energy sources like wind turbines and photovoltaic panels contrasted with more traditional displays of China’s agricultural and industrial strength.
Domestically, the parade was pitched and largely seen as a celebration of China’s accomplishments. "[China] has triumphed over all sorts of difficulties and setbacks and risks to gain the great achievements evident to the world. Today, a socialist China geared towards modernization, the world and the future towers majestically in the east. We have realized the goal of the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation," said Hu in a speech to the gathering.
Local audiences, however, had to watch the parade at home on TV. Tiananmen Square was closed off to all but 30,000 invited guests.
Reactions of observers outside the mainland were muted, although there were protests by Tibetan exiles outside China’s embassy in New Delhi. Taiwan Premier Wu Den-yih said, "We must respect whatever manner China decides to celebrate this anniversary."
While the form of the parade seemed to suggest a return to patterns of the past, Beijing repeatedly emphasized that the parade was not intended to send a message of aggression; as a finale, local schoolchildren released balloons into the air as a flock of 60,000 doves were freed from cages. Amid a continuing global economic crisis, Beijing designed the show as an affirmation of China’s achievements, and as a reminder to beneficiaries of economic growth of precisely to whom they owe their prosperity.