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Deafening noises, snarled traffic, and boundless patriotism: how Beijing residents saw the 70th National Military Parade

8forty spoke to Beijing residents to understand how they saw this year’s massive military parade close up.

Samantha, 18, a Chinese citizen who lives in Toronto eagerly awaited the parade for this year’s 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China. “Since I am a Chinese citizen, I must not miss the military parade even though it happened in the early morning,” she said. She had set an alarm to wake her up at 2:30 am to watch the two-hour-long parade.

Across the Pacific in Beijing, her mother was watching with her. “I’d been waiting to watch the parade on TV since 7 o’clock in the morning,” she told a reporter for 8forty.

The military parade connected Chinese people from around the world, from Asia to North America, to celebrate the same event: the birthday of their country. A film titled, “My People, My Country,” in which seven Chinese directors survey the history of China was also made to commemorate the anniversary. It has already earned more than $284 million US. 

On October 1st, Beijing held a celebration of China’s founding featuring a military parade right in front of Tiananmen square. The military parade was not only for watching a “show” and enjoying the holiday but also to remember heroes who saved China from wars. Different from the 2015 China Victory Day Parade which focuses on the victory of World War 2, it is also celebrating the 70-year history of People’s Republic of China. It has been a tradition in China that every ten years there will be a huge celebration of the country, demonstrating the improvement of its military power. The Chinese government’s display included intercontinental missiles and unmanned aerial vehicles.  

However, those who live in Beijing may be more concerned with the parade’s effect on noise and commuting than what it portrays about the nation. the government choose to restrict the movement of 200 million people, hindering their ability to get to work and companies and schools were asked to stop for environmental reasons. Despite the difficulties, most Beijing residents who spoke to 8forty for this article felt that the Chinese could feel safe and proud through the strength that the government has shown. 

Beijing resident Zhang Yu-Ting, a high school student who lives near the parade grounds, told 8forty that during the parade, the city’s traffic in several areas such as Dongcheng and Xicheng district had prevented him from going home. The subways were being requisitioned by the government and according to official data from Beijing Subway, there are 10 million people that rely on the subway to commute across the city which means many riders need to find new ways to get to work such as by car, bike or walking. Other Beijing residents who spoke to 8forty for this article have planned extra time for travel which they describe as difficult for their families or themselves because it could take parents two or three hours to take their children home. Both in comments to 8forty and posts on social media, residents complained about how the extra commuting time has a major impact on students as students may already only sleep 5-6 hours due to excessive studies. The traffic situation in Beijing will force them to use more of their sleep time to get to class. 

From September to October 1st, Beijing increased security measures including a dramatic increase in the number of police monitoring the city. 

Also, many workers put in overtime to meet the demands of the government. For example, cleaners need to ensure that the streets are clean all the time and even some of them have chosen to sleep on the street to deal with the situation. 

After seeing this on social media app Weibo, Beijing resident Ma Wen-Jie said, “It was like an image project because the city is not as serious or clean as the TV displayed.” She thought it was hilarious to give a day off before the holiday to reproduce ”APEC blue,” a temporary improvement Beijing’s notoriously poor air quality due to reduced emissions. This was previously achieved during the G20 meeting when Beijing’s skies became uncharacteristically blue for the day. 

Ma also reported that the day off made students celebrate having an extra day of rest more than the celebration itself, spending it sleeping or playing video games instead of participating in the patriotic spirit of the parade.

She thinks if the government allows citizens, not just performers, to watch the parade in person at Tiananmen square, it would help to improve the way the event is seen. As most Chinese citizens know, the audience for events like this are carefully selected to display exactly the image that the government wants to portray. Thus, people have seen Chinese as the puppets of the government. A recent opinion piece on BBC criticized the parade as “one that shuns creativity and innovation in favor of uniformity and obedience.” The more we control Chinese people to carry out this “image project,” the more western countries portray the event in overtly robotic language such as in this recent piece from the Guardian describing the parade:

“‘Hello comrades!’ an almost motionless Hu shouted out at intervals. In unison, the troops replied: ‘Hello commander!’ and ‘Serve the people!.”

Ma Wen-Jie suggested that “as the new generation, we want to change this situation either to make our government more approachable for people or stop them to keep doing image projects.”

Zhang Yu-Ting described the parade as the most memorable he had ever experienced. He said that several days before October, planes joined the dress rehearsal and the noise was killing him in the morning. However, he was willing to put up with the disturbance. “It is for the parade,” he said. “I need to overcome my difficulties for my country to have a perfect national day.” 

A French teacher in Beijing who was selected to participate told me, “It is an honor to be chosen as a performer of the mass parade.” She trained for three months and could not sleep all night because performers have to practice during the night to reduce the disruption to Tiananmen Square which is a busy transportation hub for residents. Still, activities there affected the commutes of many individuals. 

The teacher said that as a Chinese citizen, it was her greatest glory which to be watched by millions of Chinese who loved their country and felt the strength of China closely.

“Our hardships and persistence are worthwhile when we go through Tiananmen square and saw the plane fly over our heads,” she said. “At that time, it was so touching that it filled my heart.” 

Image Credit: CCTV

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