China Celebrates 60

Article excerpt

An elaborate ceremony illustrates how China's leaders think, by ROBERT LAWRENCE KUHN

Beijing: October 1, 2009. Today China celebrated the 60th anniversary of the People's Republic with an outpouring of national pride unrivaled in Chinese history, perhaps in world history. I attended all the events.

It began the night before at a state dinner in the massive Great Hall of the People in Tiananmen Square, where all national leaders and some 4,000 officials and guests heard Premier Wen Jiabao speak of China's accomplishments and challenges. The day itself commenced with a celebratory, reflective address to the nation by President Hu Jintao, who was dressed in a high-style, pointedly non-Western, Sun Yat-sen jacket (often referred to as the "Mao suit").

Then came a massive military parade, showing off over a dozen new weapon systems, ranging from cruise missiles, Dongfeng-21C anti-ship missiles (designed to interdict U.S. aircraft carriers) and Dongfeng-32 intercontinental nuclear-armed missiles to attack helicopters, amphibious assault tanks and unmanned aerial vehicles- all manufactured domestically. Military leaders stressed that a nation's militan' policy, not its military weapons, is what matters. China's weapons, they asserted, are only for defense- but it was a hard sell to wary foreigners near and far. On the other hand, the Chinese people, never forgetting the long century of foreign invasions, occupations, humiliations and depredations, were unalloyed in their pride that the Chinese people had finally, as Chairman Mao Zedong had promised six decades earlier, "stood up" in the world.

Then followed the civilian procession, which featured 36 formations, 60 floats, and a cast of 100,000 (yes, 100,000; no mistake). Each province was represented/as were various sectors of society from space to sports. In the cool, clear evening, 60,000 performed Chinese music and dance amidst waves of intricately dynamic colors and kaleidoscopic shapes- topped off by a breathtaking fireworks display, twice the size of the Olympics opening ceremonies, that set the city aglow. Two gigantic LCD screens, each some 400 square feet, the largest of their kind in the world, afforded everyone a perfect view.

Yet, China's problems clearly remain serious. For the celebrations, Beijing was under severe lockdowns. Hotels and streets near the parade route were closed and local residents were forbidden to look out of their windows for fear of snipers. Police were everywhere. SWAT teams with police dogs searched every room of every nearby hotel, my room not exempted. One Chinese minister noted wryly that if such dxaconian measures were required to assure the people's safety, China today couldn't be "all that glorious."

Nonetheless, astonishing itself as well as the world, China had transformed itself from national destitution, its people in perennial poverty, and from international irrelevancy, a country ignored or ostracized by the community of nations, into an economic superpower involved with every major issue in foreign affairs and competing in every arena of h Liman endeavor. From trade, business and finance to diplomacy. defense and security; from science, technology and innovation to culture, media and sports, China has global impact.

Some worry about a looming "China threat"- an aggressive, mercantile, expansionist empire that threatens American supremacy in all sectors. (The planners of the military parade certainly did not have "mitigating the China threat" as part of their job descriptions.)

Others laud an emerging "China model"- economic and social freedoms combined with single-party political control and limited political rights- as an alternative to America's "Democracy model" for the developing world.

What do China's leaders, current and future, make of all this? We should appreciate how they thinknot as portrayed in foreign media but as they sense and express it. For several years, I've had numerous opportunities to speak directly with many of China's leaders. …