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POLITICS-CHINA: Coming Soon: A Stage-Managed 60th Anniversary Bash

Antoaneta Bezlova

BEIJING, Sep 27 2009 (IPS) - When it comes to pageantry, China’s communist leaders leave little to chance. This October, which marks six decades of their rule over the Middle Kingdom, mass events and grand spectacles would have needed little choreography to elicit a joyous mood.

The Oct. 1 communist republic’s founding anniversary coincides with the celebrations of one of the most beloved Chinese traditional festivals – the Mid-Autumn festival – when Chinese people honour the harvest season with family reunions and moon-gazing parties.

But instead of using the occasion to fuse old with new and allow spontaneous merriment under the brightest autumn moon, Chinese leaders have chosen to stage-manage and control people’s celebrations.

The military parade – one of the biggest in communist China’s 60 years, will be off-limits to ordinary people. So will be the evening extravaganza, performed at Tiananmen Square and complete with fireworks under the direction of the 2008 Beijing Olympics opening ceremony, maestro Zhang Yimou.

In the lack of direct participation of the masses, patriotic fervour and national pride are being boosted with a barrage of propaganda, some 40 million flowers and three mega-films focusing on the birth of communist China.

"It is very auspicious for the (communist) party to have the 60th anniversary together with the Mid-Autumn festival," says Bai Anzheng, gatekeeper at the Chaoyang Park, where some of the planned festivities will take place. "Call me superstitious, but it means well for our leaders."

Yet communist mandarins seem distrustful of their cosmic luck. They have drafted two million military and volunteer personnel to form a ‘security moat’ around Beijing and ensure that nothing disrupts their display of China’s national strength and power.

"Not even a mosquito will be able to fly through our security wall," Yang Haiyang, in charge of security checkpoints outside Beijing, told the ‘Southern Weekend’ newspaper this week.

Seven days of public celebration will begin on a somber note on Oct. 1, with a military procession and a keynote speech by the communist party chief, Hu Jintao. On that day, life in the capital will be grounded to a halt and Beijing transformed into an arena for a military and civil pageantry.

A military procession, including five never-before-seen missiles, will be on display on the central Avenue of Eternal Peace in the early hours. Some 150 warplanes loaded with bombs will complete a ceremonial flyover. The route will be blocked off for the public, and those with balconies overlooking the avenue have been warned to stay indoors and watch the parade on TV.

A civil procession of 180,000 people is to follow the military parade, including 60 floats carrying veterans of the 1945-1949 civil war, which led to the overthrow of Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalist Party and the victory of Mao Zedong’s guerilla troops.

On Oct. 1, 1949 communist chairman Mao stood atop Tiananmen (‘The Gate of Heavenly Peace’) and proclaimed that Chinese people had "stood up".

On this day next week, goose-stepping soldiers carrying the flag of communist China will take symbolic 169 steps to mark the proverbial long road stretching over 169 years that the Chinese nation has walked since its humiliating defeat at the hands of western powers during the Opium Wars in the 19th century.

"The ceremony will symbolise China’s fight to become a strong and wealthy nation," says Wang Zhengxu, a senior research fellow at Nottingham University’s China Policy Institute. According to Wang, the last 60 years of China’s modern history were defined by its struggle for independence and national integrity. "They were marked with a strong sense of insecurity and victimhood."

Three high-profile film releases are reviving the history of the last 60 years, all of them preferring to deal with the early years of the communist rule rather than its period of famine during the 1950s or the political chaos of the Cultural Revolution in the late 1960s.

‘The Founding of a Republic,’ ‘Tiananmen’ and ‘Message’ feature more than 170 film stars, including some of the best-known Chinese actors and actresses like Jackie Chan, Jet Li and Zhang Ziyi, in productions that will dominate cinemas for the next three months. Directors have presented their films like "birthday gifts" to the motherland.

"Three are far too many to sell," says DVD shop owner Chen Xueli. Her clients buy "The Founding" out of curiosity to see what historic roles have been allocated to all the famous stars, only to come back to her, saying the film is "just like any other mainstream historic film from the past."

History has been censored not only in these anniversary releases but also in scholarly publications. Xiao Jiansheng’s ‘Chinese History Revisited’, which touches on the famine and death of the late 1950s and mentions the 1989 Tiananmen crackdown on democracy, was banned two years ago on the mainland. Last week its Hong Kong publishers came under pressure to stop the book’s publication in the former British territory ahead of the October anniversary.

Even government statisticians have come under political pressure to tell a positive story of China’s economic success despite the effects of the global financial crisis. China’s National Bureau of Statistics launched a campaign in late July to honour the 60th anniversary of the founding of communist China, dusting off past slogans like ‘Love the motherland, love statistics’.

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