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September 30, 2009 in The China Beat


Copyright September 30, 2009 François Lachapelle. Used by permission.


This essay originally appeared on David Ownby’s blog, China at Our Gates, in June. It is reposted in full here with the permission of that site.

2009 is no piece of cake for Chinese officialdom. Having survived the invisible torment of the twentieth anniversary of Tiananmen they turn now to the preparation for the 60th birthday of the People’s Republic. Despite daily high temperatures in the 30s in North China, one wonders if Peking bureaucrats might be suffering from cold sweats.

Certain early indicators indicate that the event is being taken seriously. Visas are being restricted, as they were in the period leading up to the Olympic Games. Several travel agencies have already announced that they will be unable to secure business visas for travellers after mid-September.

China’s 60th birthday will not be a one-day event. In fact, festivities began…on October 1, 2008. So as to encourage patriotism and health among the younger generation, the Ministry of Education decided to add jogging to the curriculum. The goal for the month of April, 2009, was for elementary school children to log 120 kilometers, high school students 180, and university students 240. (The astute mathematician will notice that all these numbers are multiples of 60).

If the Beijing Olympics were meant to showcase China’s modernization and the quality of Chinese athletes, and Expo Shanghai 2010 the glowing future of the young dynasty, the first parade of the Chinese military in the 21st century will serve to put China’s military power on display. For Fang Fenghui, Commander of the military region of Peking and Deputy of the 11th People’s Congress, “the appearance of new military hardware will be one of the highlights of the military parade.” This 14th parade will be particularly important in that the Chinese contribution to the first parade in 1949 was limited to horses, while in 2009, again according to Fang Fenghui, “there will be a great deal of equipment of Chinese manufacture, of impressive quality, to be seen during the parade.”

What is the interest of this 60th birthday for those who will not be in China in the coming months to witness the ballet performances of the Red Guards, or for those who are not fascinated by military matters, straight lines, and squeaky clean uniforms? For one thing, an ostentatious display of Chinese military power is an excellent occasion to take the pulse of the American political elite and to see how many of them remain enamored of the theory of the “yellow peril.”