Stanley's blog

I had the good fortune to be in Beijing on 1 October and witnessed the parade and evening gala concert. Only superlatives do justice to the quality and organisation of the events, which involved perhaps 250 000 participants.

Contrary to what a number of commentators have said, I believe that the military parade, which began the proceedings – as indeed the entire day – was directed at the domestic audience. China’s military capability was already known and the Olympic Games proved its organising ability.

1 October was celebrated in festivities held throughout the country. Most Chinese saw it as a happy occasion of which they could be proud. The main objective could well have been to demonstrate the legitimacy of the Party through its ability to govern and to ensure security. Despite the bad weather forecast, the entire day was warm and sunny, with a cloudless blue sky – thanks to the Chinese meteorological actions taken the night before.

Some reflections:

• The security precautions were massive: at stake was proof of the ability to organise a public security system.
• This meant that the centre of Beijing was closed to ordinary people.
• There was a determination to show 56 ethnic groups (or ‘nationalities’) living together in harmony.
• The precision of the military marching was extraordinary. Unfortunately, however, ‘goose-stepping’ still sends a shiver down my spine.
• Patriotism was almost tangible, but the dividing line between positive patriotism and negative nationalism is thin.
• The initial role of Mao Zedong was, of course, acknowledged, but photographs of the four generations of leaders (Mao, Deng, Jang and Hu) were presented equally and the continuity emphasised.

The parade of military hardware was not the centrepiece of the day and needs to be put in perspective. I feared that we would see a Soviet-style, threatening, manifestation of military capability, but this was not so. The day was dominated by the civilian dimension – dancing and singing, flowers, colours, floats representing all the provinces and different sectors of life, and fireworks. Despite the grandiosity of the occasion, the human touch was present throughout, and the evening closing with the Chinese leaders dancing with guests. Hu Jintao was modest in his ‘exposure’, no doubt seeking to demonstrate the importance of team building.

I was left with a politically incorrect thought. Having watched the advanced Chinese-made military equipment on display, it seems to me that the West is shooting itself in its collective foot by not selling hi-tech arms to China. We have driven their custom into Russian hands and have also effectively encouraged a new competitor in China itself. The arms embargo is an anachronism.

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  1. I agree fully with your assessment though I saw it, over 2 hours, on the net via CCTV. The colourful costumes, the very commercial floats and sexy sharp women marching go to show that China just want to impress the outside world that they have arrived as a nation. There is no need to hyperventilate.

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