Beijing is getting ready to put on a massive military parade.
The Chinese Communist Party has done these types of processions before. After all, that’s sort of the purpose of the grand plaza of central Beijing’s Tiananmen Square.
But Thursday will be the first time the Chinese government pulls out all the stops to mark the end of the Chinese People’s War of Resistance Against Japan.
In the West, we call it World War II.
But in China, the end of the war brought an end to a century of Chinese humiliation at the hands of foreign imperialist powers, with Japan being the worst of all.
And that’s the real purpose of this week’s big parade.
“The parade is not about China flexing its military muscle to scare other countries. It is about giving the Chinese people something to feel proud of,” explains an op-ed from China’s national news agency, Xinhua.
The parade will feature some 12,000 members of the People’s Liberation Army, 200 modern aircraft, a small contingent of troops from allied nations – including Russia, Belarus, Cuba, Pakistan, Mexico, Mongolia and Central Asian states — and, of course, some cutting edge military hardware.
Chinese authorities want things to go smoothly and they are not leaving things to chance. They’ve told the public to stay home, stay off of their balconies, and to avoid even peeking out the window at the procession of military personnel and hardware that will move through the heart of the Chinese capital on Thursday.
The Chinese people will have to enjoy this display of national power and pride on TV. And it is indeed an event made for television.
There are sure be some scenes of flag-waving crowds. But those folks are authorized to be part of an audience of ordinary people who’ll be watching the parade from bleachers.
“It’s not like the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade where you can just amble down to the curb with your lawn chair and expect to gawk at what’s being paraded on the street,” says Julie Makinen, China correspondent of the LA Times.
Makinen says residents in her Beijing apartment complex, which sits near the parade route, were told to stay inside and even refrain from turning on their gas stoves during the parade. One day ahead of the big event, “businesses were closed, gas stations were closed, hospitals were closed,” Makinen says.
“A lot of people [in Beijing] have had multiple days off work, so they’re pretty excited about that,” she adds. On the other hand, Makinen says people who live along the one-mile parade route near Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City have been inconvenienced greatly. There’s been discussion, for example, about whether pregnant women needed to schedule C-sections in order to avoid the prospect of going into labor during the parade.
Beyond the over-the-top security measures, one of which includes monkeys, there are politics involved here. Beijing certainly wants to send a message to Japan, the US and China’s neighbors in the region. The bedrock of the legitimacy of the Chinese Communist Party, going back to the days of Chairman Mao, has been about the party helping the Chinese people stand up to foreign domination.
And in the People’s Republic, there is no victory greater than the one against Japan in 1945.
In wartime of Japanese aggression to China, around 2.2 million Chinese children were killed or injured pic.twitter.com/o3F7NSn561— China Xinhua News (@XHNews) September 2, 2015
Not everyone, however, is swallowing the Party’s version of events.
“[T]he reality of 1945 highlights the ahistorical absurdity of the military pageantry in Tiananmen Square intended to commemorate it,” writes John Delury, Asia expert at Yonsei University in Seoul, South Korea.
Chinese war veterans who fought with the Nationalists say the Communists have re-written the history of the war.
“During those eight years, it was us Nationalists who were fighting — the Communists were not doing battle with the Japanese. They were trying to get Nationalist soldiers to defect to their side,” one vet told Julie Makinen in Taiwan.
The pomp and power of Thursday’s proceedings are also meant to send a message to the Chinese public, Delury goes on to say.
“A military parade is a display not only of state power, but also of social order. Indeed, it is an apotheosis (or dystopia) of social order, reducing a dynamic, diverse citizenry into columns of soldiers, marching in unison, dressed in matching fatigues, saluting their commander, embodying the monolithic nation.”