China's National Day: pricey pomp and communist circumstance
China celebrated the 35th anniversary of the founding of its communist state yesterday with a stunning national pageant in Tian An Men Square. Deng Xiaoping was the political focus of the morning's events. China's paramount leader reviewed the troops before the parades began and gave the only speech of the day. The festivities highlighted China's self-confidence and prosperity under his leadership.
The celebrations in Peking included military and civilian parades, performing-arts exhibitions, and mass dances.
The October air was cool and hazy as virtually all of China's top leaders from both party and government assembled on the rostrum of the magnificent Tian An Men Gate (Gate of Heavenly Peace). The massive gate had been refurbished with ocher-colored paint and gold-leaf and decorated with huge red lanterns.
A fresh portrait of Mao Tse-tung hung over the arched entrance to the Forbidden City, the former imperial residence. It was from the top of this gate 35 years ago that Mao Tse-Tung proclaimed the founding of the People's Republic after more than two decades of civil war.
The Tian An Men rostrum provides a commanding view of the 123-acre Tian An Men Square where over 100,000 young workers, students, and children stood yesterday in colorful formations. Sixteen huge lantern-shaped balloons floated over the square which was flanked by large portraits of Marx and Engels to the east, Lenin and Stalin to the west, and Sun Yat-sen - the first president of the Republic of China who led the 1911 revolution overthrowing the Qing dynasty - in the center facing the gate.
The day's program began when, promptly at 10 a.m., half a million people were in their assigned places for the beginning of a two-hour parade before an assemblage of China's leaders, the foreign diplomatic corps, 3,000 young Japanese specially invited by Communist Party Secretary Hu Yaobang, and other guests. This was China's first military parade since 1959 and the most extravagant national celebration the government has ever staged.
Deng Xiaoping, who is also chairman of the Military Commission, opened the festivities by reviewing in an open car military troops assembled to the east of the square. In the brief speech which followed, Mr. Deng emphasized the historical changes in the policies of the Chinese Communist Party which he himself has engineered since 1978.
''In the past 35 years in China,'' he said, ''not only was the past dark period of history wholly terminated, but a socialist society built up, and this has changed the course of human history. Particularly, after the Third Plenum Session of the 11th Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party (held in December, 1978), the perverse acts of the counterrevolutionary 'gang of four' were thoroughly redressed, the method of thinking advocated by Comrade Mao Tse-tung and characterized by seeking truth from facts was restored and developed, and a number of important policies suited to the new situation have been adopted. Thus the whole country has taken a new look....
''We have placed socialist modernization above everything else in our work,'' he said, in indirect reference to his 1978 defeat of the previous party policy emphasizing the class struggle.
Deng also referred to a seriously deteriorating international situation and to the need to strengthen China's defense.
In the address he cited the Hong Kong settlement with Britain and renewed the often-heard appeal for reunification with Taiwan. ''We stand for the peaceful reunification with Taiwan, which is part of our sacred territory,'' he said. ''Our policy in this regard is well known to all and will not change.''
The military parade was a modest display of a cross section of Chinese troop units, mechanized equipment, and missiles, including intercontinental ballistic missiles and submarine-launched ballistic missiles.
In all, more than 10,000 troops marched through Tian An Men Square. A flyover by 94 Air Force planes, including bombers and attack and fighter aircraft, was largely obscured by the morning haze.
A Communist Party spokesman said Sunday that the military review was ''by no means a show of force.'' And China's own military leaders have agreed that the People's Liberation Army (PLA) does not meet the levels of the more advanced countries.
Even so, the military parade was clearly a welcome opportunity for the PLA to show off to its domestic audience.
Western diplomats said that the parade indicates military support for Deng's reforms and in some ways compensates the PLA for getting a low priority in Deng's modernization program.
It also shows that the military has a professional and not a politcial role - in contrast with an earlier era when it was considered to be a model of revolutionary behavior for the whole country and was closely identified with the Chinese Communist Party.
Many of the senior PLA officers sitting on the rostrum with Deng must have relished the fact that their Army was marching up the very route that was used as an airstrip when the last plane of the Nationalist forces took off from Peking in 1949.
The military parade was followed by a mass parade of civilian marchers and floats representing virtually every group in Chinese society and every important sector of the economy. It began with the release of 10,000 pigeons from the middle of the square.
Contingents of thousands of peasants and several tens of thousands of workers were accompanied by floats featuring consumer goods and depicting key national construction projects.
China's achievements in science and technology and sports were highlighted and the nation's Olympic gold medalists rode on a series of lofty floats.
The last contingent of the parade was 23,000 primary-school children from the Communist Party's Young Pioneers. As they marched flashing brightly colored hoops, they shouted, ''Long live the motherland! Long live the party! We are the successors to the communist cause!''