So for those of you who aren't aware, China just celebrated it's 60th year as a nation. I keep reminding my Chinese friends who tell me this that the nation has been around for a whole lot longer than 60 years. But, they just laugh. Sixty years of the People's Republic of China, to be more precise. Sixty years since Mao stood in front of the Forbidden City and announced the start of a new country.
And they celebrated the way the Chinese always celebrate. Grandly. Here are some observations I made from the parade and fireworks show:
- I find it oddly creepy when a nation (any nation) parades it's military armory through a city. China proudly displayed a good chunk of their arsenal in the first half of the parade. In addition to making an awfully boring procession unless you're a 8-year-old boy (Look! Another Tank!), it seemed provocative. But it had its desired effect of inspiring patriotic feelings, which brings me to observation number 2.
- Several of our friends cried through the parade. I'm not sure if it is just because I've never gotten into the "intense patriotic fervor" mentioned above, but I don't think I've ever cried at a parade. (One time when I was a girl and at a family reunion, I did get a bit choked up when my cousin and I sang God Bless the USA, but I was like 10 years old and it was before I really understood that God blesses many countries and that I should only have one allegiance.) When we asked what made them cry, I totally expected that they'd talk about the sweet little kids singing patriotic songs and saying, "I love my Mom. I love China." (seriously.) But it wasn't. They started tearing up when President Hu drove out on the street in his car. That surprised me because he looked so very solemn and a little bored. Unlike the US Presidents, Chinese Presidents don't wave or smile at the crowd. It is un-Presidential here. Unless a Chinese President finds himself in a situation as described in observation number 3.
- The TV cameras loved the Party (hah. hah. ok - lame joke) at the top of the Forbidden City. They had all the dignitaries (i.e. mostly high-ranking Party leaders) seated in a special area right above the giant Mao portrait at the entrance of the Forbidden City. The parade went by right below them, and the cameras kept going to them to see their reaction to the spectacle. In my opinion, it didn't look like they could have enjoyed it less. Well, that is until a certain brigade marched by.
When this group of fine looking damsels smartly marched by, the camera panned up to Hu, and this time instead of seeing a dour face, we found the President smiling wildly and waving at the girls. I know I'm not the only one who noticed this. Everyone in our viewing party started cracking up. It was the only time we saw him smile the whole day. (Picture from the NYT.)
- China has a lot of people. I mean seriously. There were over a 100,000 civilians who participated in the parade. And, I've never seen any group of people so absolutely in-sync. They said that soldiers practiced for 10 hours a day for the last year to perfect certain parts of the procession. Jacob heard they practiced the parade 3,000 times. Can you imagine? We Americans would have had a dry-run the day before and called it good. But we also wouldn't have been so absolutely in-sync (they were like robots!). But we also wouldn't have been mind-numbingly bored from practicing walking for a fairly significant chunk of our life. I guess it could go either way. They are committed; I'll give them that.
- China knows how to do fireworks. It should, given their invention of them and all. Their fireworks show is like the best-show-I've-seen-in-the-states' finale. But then it lasts for 3 hours. It does impress me, but then I look at my window and see a village full of people who don't have indoor plumbing, and I wonder if fireworks are really that important? My dad always likened it to burning money.
- In America we like to say "God Bless America." In China, they like to say "I love China." They sing songs with that in it. They have banners with that on it. It is everywhere. Oh, and our driver tonight greeted us with "Happy Birthday!" I was a little confused until I figured out that this must be like saying "Merry Christmas!" So, "Happy Birthday Zhonggua!"
- The announcers on TV had an interesting "spin" on some of the aspects of the parade. For example, the float dedicated to a certain wayward western province was a "celebration of the unity of the people in the region." I'm not sure what rock they thought we were hiding under, but really? Unity? Does anyone buy that? One should note that the announcers are all employees of the state-controlled media. Makes one appreciate freedom of speech. (I'm feeling more patriotic already!)
I'm sure I could find more things to add to my list, but it's almost 11 pm, and I'm tired. I do want to close on one final note. I hope my take on the party doesn't come off as disrespectful. I love these people, and I'm thankful to be allowed to be here. It's a privilege.
But, like I said at the beginning, it's interesting being in the middle of someone else's patriotism. It's a surreal experience to see people totally embracing a country where the policies take away a lot of their freedoms. To be perfectly honest, it is frustrating at times. But, the thing that strikes me the most is how I'm sure we're not so different. If a foreigner were sitting next to me at a parade in the states, they might find some of the things I support and believe to be incredulous as well.
So, all that to say, let's all check our loyalties and make sure they are where they belong.