The parade to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China has gone off without a hitch. The weather even cooperated with fantastic blue skies and white clouds high in the sky.
On my way to work, many people were out on the streets, doing what I'm not sure as there isn't much to do with many places closed. A few people rode the subway.
As I was leaving the subway station from one of the exits, a group of people were huddled around a flat screen TV in the corridor with munchies in hand to watch the proceedings.
After the national anthem, President Hu Jintao came down from the rostrum at Tiananmen and got into what looked like an old Red Flag limousine but in fact was the latest model that kept the old school look. He stood so he could be seen out of the sunroof complete with four microphones attached to the roof. As he inspected the numerous lines of soldiers, tanks and equipment, he said, "Tongzhimen hao" (Hello comrades)... "Tongzhimen Xinku" (Comrades, you've worked hard) ... to which the soldiers enthusiastically replied.
Shots of the military hardware made a striking contrast to the shiny modern Wangfujing buildings in the background.
Then the car turned around and went back down Chang'an Avenue and across the bridge at Tiananmen where the music continued playing until he got up to the rostrum that included Zhu Rongji, Jiang Zemin, Wen Jiabao, Bo Xilai, Xi Jinping, and Li Keqiang. They wore their requisite dark suits and ties in various shades of red. Hu wore an updated Mao suit in dark grey.
The President's speech was thankfully short and concise, recounting the successes of the last 60 years, how Chairman Mao built the country and that Hong Kong and Macau have returned to the motherland.
Meanwhile, thousands of children held up colourful cards that created a series of slogans, like 人民万岁 or "Long Live the People", 热爱人民 or "Love the people", 社会主义好 "Socialism is good" and so on....
After Hu's speech, the military parade began. Chinese commentators believe this is the most interesting part of the parade, and give many statistics about the 14 infantry formations, 30 motorized formations and 12 air force formations... they speak with pride about China's latest weaponry and in the same breath stress that China will not use war to provoke, but only to defend itself. It makes one wonder if China realizes showing all this military hardware isn't really in synch with its ongoing message that it is a peaceful nation...
The soldiers really do march in perfect order and when they about to pass the rostrum they shout out to the VIP guests.
When the female soldiers in military green short skirts and boots started marching, the TV cut to President Hu smiling brightly and clapping... obviously pleased to see some leg. The same thing happened when another unit of women, now dressed in fuchsia outfits with white berets and boots are marching by. Hu can't seem to stop smiling at them.
After that the tanks started rolling in...
The poor military band has to keep playing over and over for two hours.... overhead planes flew by, emitting rainbow colours. We hear them rumbling by our office and my coworkers ran to the window to see if they could spot them in the sky -- not.
Then it was time for the floats... all 60 of them. There's a picture of Mao Zedong at the rostrum, and his voice can be heard, proclaiming the founding of the People's Republic, as people wave giant red handkerchiefs in the air. Another says the People's Republic has stood up.
Floats with the portraits of Deng Xiaoping, Jiang Zemin and even Hu Jintao go by. Seems you can be immortalized even before your presidency is over. Or is it an attempt to be seen in the same light as past leaders?
A number of floats go by, like the Shenzhou V complete with an astronaut waving the Chinese flag, one of the Olympics and Paralymics with the song, "You and Me", various cities like Beijing, Shanghai, Macau and Hong Kong. Even Chief Executive Donald Tsang was there, with a camera around his neck playing tourist.
There were other floats from some provinces like Shandong, Guizhou and Yunnan, and even one from the sanitation department!
They were rounded out by, of course the minorities, or were they Han Chinese in ethnic minority costumes? Hard to tell from far away.
In the end more than 5,000 children held giant balloons that were mostly red. They released all the balloons (we'll have to see how far they travel) and the kids enthusiastically ran to the three bridges leading to the rostrum waving to the senior leaders who reacted like passive robots.
The event was scripted so much that nothing was taken to chance, not even a slight spontaneous outburst.
While we watched the proceedings, one of my colleagues remarked to me on MSN: "Our country is a bigger North Korea... I have no idea why 1.3 billion people are so happy for this. People don't benefit from this at all."
She had a point. Only invited guests were allowed to witness the event live, while everyone else in Beijing had to be cooped up in their homes, while roads were blocked, buses diverted and subway lines stopped. Even the airport was stopped for three hours during the parade.
In the meantime now that the parade is over (and now constantly replayed on CCTV), what's going to happen to all the floats? Will they be auctioned off or put in some kind of 60th anniversary museum?
That's what inquiring minds want to know.
More commentary on the parade from the Wall Street Journal can be found here.