China prepares massive military parade for October 1 celebrations

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Beijing, China – Wu Xiaoliang gushes about the tanks and missiles that are set to roll through the streets of central Beijing on October 1 to mark 70 years of Communist rule, in what will be China’s largest-ever military parade and a show of the country’s strength.

The 32-year-old horticulturist is a fan of a popular military drama on television, “The King of Land Battle,” which she watches together with her mother-in-law in their home in the centre of Beijing.

Although the parade will be just a few kilometres away from their home, they will watch it on TV as well. Public access to the festivities has been banned, with the exception of the civilians who are involved in the parade.

In the weeks leading up to next week’s celebrations, parts of the Chinese capital have come to a standstill during parade rehearsals. Security has been tightened, access to foreign websites further impeded, and an air of anticipation and caution has settled over the city of 22 million people.

The Communist Party is set to showcase legions of troops marching in synchronised-step, as well its latest weaponry in what military official Cai Zhijun has described as the country’s largest military parade in decades.

October 1 marks the founding of he People’s Republic of China by Mao Zedong after the Communists won the civil war in 1949 and defeated the nationalists. China’s previous largest military parade, which included 12,000 troops, was held in 2015 to commemorate the end of World War Two.

The event comes at a sensitive time for the party and its leader, President Xi Jinping. China’s economy is growing at its slowest pace in decades amid a trade war with the United States that has no end in sight.

In Hong Kong, a semi-autonomous city controlled by Beijing, residents have protesting since June, demanding greater democracy. And the government’s policies in its western Xinjiang region came under fireat the United Nations on Tuesday. 

China parade preps

Wu Xiaoliang, 32, is looking forward to watching China’s upcoming military parade on TV. [Simina Mistreanu/Al Jazeera]

Pigeons caged, dogs banned

But both the inconveniences brought by the rehearsals and questions about the country’s current “struggles” – as Xi has called them – are largely secondary for Beijing residents. 

“Neither family nor self is more important than country,” said Ma, a 56-year-old cook who lives in Beijing’s traditional hutong alleyways, echoing the party’s touted socialist values. “We have to first consider the big event.”

And the parade has indeed inconvenienced many.

Hotels near the historic Chang’An Avenue have notified travellers about 12-hour lockdowns during rehearsals. Residents from buildings overlooking the avenue have been denied access to their homes.

Other parts of the city have been through a concerted tidying up and beautifying effort, with Beijing’s ubiquitous street cleaners instructed to work extra hard.

Neither family nor self is more important than country

Ma, 56, Beijing resident

Makeshift barracks for security guards in apartment complexes have been removed. Electric cables previously hanging along buildings in the hutongs have been neatly boxed up.

Pigeon owners, of which there are still quite a few in central Beijing, have been warned to keep their birds caged up. And dog lovers have been reminded that the city, in fact, has a ban on canines taller than 35 centimeters in its central areas. Some residens have taken to walking their Labrador Retrievers at night, cautiously.

The way parade preparations have been conducted is a reflection of China’s constrictive political environment, said independent political analyst Wu Qiang.

“Stability and safety are overwhelming,” he said. “There is no way that regular people can become involved in this big celebration. It is a celebration for Xi himself. Citizens have been completely excluded.”

China parade

Bystanders take smartphone photos as an armoured military vehicle passes along a street in Beijing during rehersals for the October 1 festivities. The public will mostly have to watch the day’s events on television. [Mark Schiefelbein/AP Photo]

‘Free, rich, strong’

Luciano Li, a 27-year-old nurse, said he didn’t mind waiting in traffic and was in fact a way to feel included in the preparations. Li was walking along Beijing’s commercial Nanluoguxiang Street wearing a hanfu – a traditional Chinese robe that has grown in popularity among young people in recent years.

Li said he believed the parade was meaningful because by looking at their country’s modern military arsenal, Chinese people could see how much the country had changed over the years and rally behind it.

China parade preps

Luciano Li, 27, said the parade would show China’s place in the world. [Simina Mistreanu/Al Jazeera]

Several people echoed the official narrative of the Communist Party having made China, in turn, free, rich, and now under Xi, strong. The headwinds faced by Beijing were described as resistance to China’s rise.

“In a sense, the United States is threatened by Chinese power, so (the trade war) is a good thing. It shows our place in the world,” said Li, who has studied in Japan.

Asked to reflect on the Hong Kong protests, some Beijing people described protesters as “naughty children” – reflecting Chinese propaganda, which has painted the protesters as ungrateful children.

Reuben, a 36-year-old videogame designer who was visiting from Shenzhen, a city bordering Hong Kong, said the protests were caused by a conflict between two worldviews: “Chinese thinking” pitted against Hong Kong’s “Westernised view.”

He said, however, that the tensions were a “small problem that will be dealt with.”

China parade preps

Some boulevards in central Beijing have been decorated with flowers ahead of the 70th anniversary of Communist rule.[Simina Mistreanu/Al Jazeera]

Xi’s tightened grip

Internet service has at times become spottier, and virtual private networks (VPNs), used by journalists and businesses to circumvent China’s “Great Firewall,” have been disrupted, as they often are ahead of key political events. 

Hu Xijin, the editor of the state-run tabloid Global Times, complained last week on Chinese social media about the Internet restrictions disrupting his paper’s work. His post was later taken down.

Expressing discontent with the government has become increasingly rare, both among public figures and regular citizens, as Xi has tightened his grip on power.

While raving about the parade, Zhao, a 47-year-old landlord, also complained briefly about authorities forcing him to demolish the rooftop of his hutong home because it was “20 centimetres” too high.

He stopped himself before going into too much detail.

“We can only say the good things about China,” he said.

China prepares massive military parade for October 1 celebrations

Beijing, China – Wu Xiaoliang gushes about the tanks and missiles that are set to roll through the streets of central Beijing on October 1 to mark 70 years of Communist rule, in what will be China ‘s largest-ever military parade and a show of the country’s strength.

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