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China Prepares For Glitzy 60th Birthday Bash

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China Prepares For Glitzy 60th Birthday Bash

Asia

China Prepares For Glitzy 60th Birthday Bash

China Prepares For Glitzy 60th Birthday Bash

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/113086416/113265245" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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Fireworks explode over Beijing's Tiananmen Square on Sept. 12 during rehearsals for massive National Day celebrations to be held Oct. 1. This year marks the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China. Imaginechina via AP hide caption

toggle caption Imaginechina via AP

Fireworks explode over Beijing's Tiananmen Square on Sept. 12 during rehearsals for massive National Day celebrations to be held Oct. 1. This year marks the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China.

Imaginechina via AP

It is hard to imagine a bigger or more highly choreographed spectacle than last year's Olympics in Beijing. But in some ways, China is trying to outdo itself with its 60th birthday celebration, although this time, the event is aimed at the domestic audience.

In recent weeks, preparations for the massive National Day Parade on Oct. 1, marking 60 years since the founding of the People's Republic of China, have consumed the nation's capital.

During weekend rehearsals, the center of Beijing has been locked down, as China's newest battle tanks, intercontinental ballistic missiles and self-propelled howitzers roll through the streets, heading for the city's main east-west thoroughfare, Chang'an Avenue.

Chinese dancers gather early on Sept. 19 for a performance in Tiananmen Square during a rehearsal for the National Day parade. STR/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption STR/AFP/Getty Images

Chinese dancers gather early on Sept. 19 for a performance in Tiananmen Square during a rehearsal for the National Day parade.

STR/AFP/Getty Images

Legions of schoolchildren in spangled costumes have sweated through weeks of rehearsals to join the rest of the 200,000 marchers in the big parade. Dozens of elaborate parade floats will trumpet the country's achievements. It's part military review, part Rose Bowl.

Beijingers are used to making way for official events. But this is a maximum security celebration like no other.

Restrictions in place for the event include a ban on kite flying. No blimps, model airplanes or carrier pigeons either, apparently because they might interfere with military jets flying over the parade.

Residents living along the parade route have been warned not to invite guests over during the event, or watch the rehearsals from their windows or balconies. Following a recent stabbing incident on a downtown street, many department stores have removed kitchen knives from their shelves until after the holiday.

Some residents are chafing at all the restrictions. At one intersection, Zhang Juanwen and her friend were stuck behind police cordons with their suitcases.

"The police won't let my friend in to stay with me because she's from out of town," Zhang explains. "Personally, I think the whole parade is unnecessary."

Nearby, several residents pushing bicycles quarreled with a beefy policeman to let them past the cordon and go home.

"Are you a Chinese or not?" the agitated policeman yelled at one woman. "Don't you have any patriotic enthusiasm?"

Chinese military vehicles head toward Tiananmen Square for a National Day parade rehearsal on Sept. 18. Authorities shut down a major part of central Beijing to conduct the rehearsal. Elizabeth Dalziel/AP hide caption

toggle caption Elizabeth Dalziel/AP

Chinese military vehicles head toward Tiananmen Square for a National Day parade rehearsal on Sept. 18. Authorities shut down a major part of central Beijing to conduct the rehearsal.

Elizabeth Dalziel/AP

Inconveniences aside, many Beijingers are looking forward to the celebration.

Among them is Railroad Ministry employee Liu Zongyi, who came out to watch the tanks. Last year's Olympics, he says, was like throwing a party for the whole world. But this year's National Day is more of an in-house affair.

"We're not trying to proclaim something to other countries," he insists. "This is simply our own affair. It's not about flaunting our wealth or military power. Chinese are humble and inward-looking."

Li Shiwen, an employee of the Beijing municipality's culture department, sees it differently. He thinks China is reconsidering its low profile on the world stage.

"Now that we've got power, we've started talking tougher," Li observes. "We dare to speak up where we didn't before. We used to espouse humility and harmoniousness, but that's changing."

"It's not so we can bully others," he adds, "but so that we can be treated as equals and not be bullied ourselves."

Most here agree that the parade is intended to boost patriotism and morale at home. But the idea that any message or event can be strictly for domestic consumption these days seems like a pre-Internet anachronism. There are times when every country turns inward, but that doesn't mean the rest of the world will look away.

I headed home after watching the rehearsals and arrived just in time to catch the sound of fireworks. To the south, the sky above Tiananmen Square was bathed in floodlights. In the distance, I caught the final refrain of the patriotic song "Ode to the Motherland," which predicts that: "From now on, we're headed for prosperity, wealth and power."

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