This week, in honor of the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China, I have interrupted our regular programming to give you an article by Matt Beyer, one of Wisconsin’s native sons who is one of the legion of China’s half-pats.
Beyer is a consultant for Edelman Public Relations in Beijing, China. Before joining Edelman, Beyer worked as Yi Jianlian’s interpreter from 2007 to 2008 with the Milwaukee Bucks. He is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, class of 2008 (Journalism, Chinese Literature and East Asian Studies) and founding president of the University of Wisconsin Alumni Association Beijing chapter. He can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. The following is Beyer’s guest contributed article:
Tanks, planes, missiles and female soldiers in miniskirts, all in one place. It may sound like a typical male fantasy, but rather it was part of the spectacle which was the decennial military parade, a climax to a year of preparation for the People’s Republic of China’s 60th anniversary on Oct. 1.
I arrived in Beijing around China’s 59th birthday party, as I began my professional journey in China’s capital. In October 2008, people in Beijing (and across China, for that matter) were just starting to catch their breath and think about the meaning of life after the 2008 Beijing Olympics. At that time, I started hearing voices of anticipation around town about the coming 60th anniversary and how big it was going to be.
Every Chinese leader has the privilege of their own “review of the soldiers” or yuebing, typically at the 10-year mark of their respective reigns. As heads of the Communist Party have historically occupied the top position of the Chinese military, this parade is each leader’s ceremonial opportunity to showcase to the government, the Chinese people and the world the improvements in Chinese military technology over the past 10 years and the sheer might of its manpower. This year’s parade was the biggest, best and most precisely planned ever – the prime PR platform for China’s top leadership.
The party has often encouraged active patriotism in people at all levels. The efforts to commemorate the 60th anniversary have been no exception.
Starting during the summer, one of my neighbors, a 22-year-old recent college graduate living at home, started showing up less often at our nightly kabab-eating and beer drinking sessions. I ran into her mother one day and she told me her daughter had already been at the “National Day Village” in the Beijing suburbs for weeks practicing for the Oct. 1 parade performance. That was in June.
She is already a party member, with a job at a state-owned enterprise lined up. For someone like her, being a part of the parade was a privilege as well as a responsibility, and the hours of preparation and hard work were worthwhile.
This same spirit of the anniversary extended to many of China’s biggest stars, including Jackie Chan, Jet Li, Zhang Ziyi, Andy Lau and others, who performed in the recently released movie, “Founding of a Republic,” a memorial to the party’s ascension to power over Chiang Kai-Shek and the KMT and the party version of this version of revolutionary history. The cast of stars more than the subject matter has drawn people to theaters so far.
Despite the willingness of many to participate in China’s 60th party in some capacity, other people, including my surveyed co-workers, expressed their apathy and even contempt for the holiday. Some saw Oct. 1 as being important for their grandparents, who lived through all the history and improvements to the nation since 1949, but co-workers mostly cared about being able to get eight days off of work. Others told me that they were annoyed about how parade preparations created traffic problems and took the focus away from important issues such as corruption and unemployment.
The more people I talked with about the anniversary, the clearer it became that this is an important anniversary with accomplishments that must be recognized, especially for the older generations. However, people my age care more about the future and what the party will be doing for them in their lives rather than memorializing the past.
In February of this year, I needed a new visa. After speaking with my visa agent, I learned that it was best for me to secure a renewal before the six-month mark leading up to Oct. 1, as they would be more expensive and nearly impossible to get after April 15, which sounded much like the policies surrounding the Olympics. Luckily, all went well with my new year-long visa in hand by mid-February.
After resolving visa issues, I started to think less of the 60th for awhile. Then the Fourth of July rolled around and I decided to host a barbecue for American co-workers and friends. Some of my Chinese neighbors and friends joined, and everyone had a good time, although I was reminded not to have any further celebrations as outdoor fires were strictly prohibited due to the 60th anniversary. I was visited several times over the next week by the neighborhood committee reminding me not to think about fireworks again anytime soon.
The July 5 Xinjiang uprisings added a new layer in alert among Beijing politicians and policemen. Ethnic minorities and foreigners were being watched more closely, which included police visits to my apartment throughout August and September to check my registry and make sure no unregistered foreigners were living in my house. It’s the law to carry one’s passport (for foreigners) or ID card (for Chinese nationals), which is generally loosely enforced, but during such times, it’s always a good idea in case of a random search.
Profiling in China does not have the same stigma that it does in the United States. In fact, as Oct. 1 approached and Beijing entered into “level 1” (or “code red” in U.S. terms), the Beijing government was very open about increased observation and investigation of foreigners and ethnic minorities in the form of news releases picked up by major Beijing media. It’s important never to forget one’s guest status or visibility in China.
There is no doubt that when the 70th anniversary arrives, everything will be even more spectacular, with China having even more to show off as its position of world leadership increases.
It is important to see this parade as a show of national pride and a demonstration of achievements for domestic and foreign audiences to witness. Some may argue that with the 300,000 participants and months of preparation, it may all seem a bit overboard. However, this is a People’s Republic of China tradition, stemming back to 1949 and Mao Zedong’s days.
Honoring what the parade and the 60th anniversary stand for, but more importantly China’s progress during the past 10 years, and 60 years all together, will command respect from your Chinese friends and business partners.