Sunday, October 4, 2009

40th Anniversary of the P.R.C.

Watching on tv the 60th anniversary celebrations of the People's Republic of China in Tianmen Square last week put me in mind of my participation in the PRC's 40th anniversary. I'd arrived in Beijing ten days previous to start teaching at Foreign Ministry's College of Diplomacy. Because foreign diplomats were boycotting the celebration due to the recently and brutally crushed Tianmen riots, we “foreign experts” were rounded up and urged to take their place, which meant we got to sit in the reviewing stands permanently installed over the Gate of Heavenly Peace, from which Mao proclaimed the P.R.C. in 1949.

Mini-buses arrived at our institute in the early afternoon to carry us in the evening. (In 1989 there were no private vehicles allowed in China: the few that existed belonged exclusively to the government.) The vehicles were parked in lots that lined the east side of the Forbidden City, and we proceeded through a side entrance to walk down to the entrance gate. That was my first visit to the Forbidden City: viewing those immense courtyards and palaces, empty and absent of any visitors, under moonlight—an eerily fascinating experience.
The viewing stands above the Gate of Heavenly Peace were not large: they might accommodate a couple hundred persons at most, and we “experts” were placed less than a stone’s throw away from China’s top leadership, at the time Li Peng and Jiang Zemin. From there we could look out across the world’s largest public square, which was filled with close to nearly two million people—the largest herd of seething humanity I’d ever seen in one place before or since.
The spectacle began with the obligatory military parade, was followed by throngs of marching flag-waving socialists of one tribal affiliation or another, and climaxed with the inevitable mega-display of fireworks. It reminded me of the triumphal processions and arena spectacles put on by the ancient Romans, and of the huge fireworks show I saw in 1981 from the foot of the Eiffel Tower in commemoration of the 2000th anniversary of the city of Paris. I couldn’t help but wonder if the Chinese socialist state would last that long.

[Photo by Peter Morgan, Wikipedia, "Tianmensquare."]

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