Today was 十一, China National Day. Pronounced “Shirr Eee” it literally means 10/1 which is of course the date. This year it was a big one, being the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic.
I had planned on going to Tibet over the holiday but being a foreigner I was unable to get permission. The government saw fit to close the region given its sensitive political situation and so I had to cancel my plans and absorb some airline ticket fees. Ah well, in this part of the world you live and learn about such things. As it turned out though because of the size of the celebration and the amount of security involved Beijing was the last place I would have wanted to be. And since my flight to Lhasa required me to spend a night in the fair capital, perhaps fate was looking out for me.
The TV coverage began at 10 AM with a long military parade. I skipped that part, choosing instead to spend some time on the phone with My Lovely Wife chasing down a network problem at home which unfortunately I was not able to fix. Such is trouble shooting from 6000 miles away. But when we rang off, I cooked up a couple of quesadillas and sat down to watch the show. And a show it was.
Float after float after float, celebrating everything from the water lily industry to their outer space aspirations. Thousands and thousands of brightly dressed singing young people marching down the street past the Heavenly Gate to the Forbidden City which held the crème of the government high up on a balcony. Across the square a giant patch of people with colorful placards produced messages in Chinese characters – red on yellow, yellow on red, white on green. The pace and the array unfortunately made the peaceful part of the celebration seem just like the military one, only instead of tanks rumbling down the row past the viewing stand, the vehicles were fashioned from flowers, fabrics and plastic. And almost heading into the space of cliché, one anthem after another perpetuated the revolutionary feel that we all expect from traditional China. Sort of a 1950’s propaganda film produced with 21st century materials. The leaders stood clapping, their mouths slightly moving as they sang along. It was something to behold.
Following the release of 60,000 pigeons in an attempt to bolster the gene pool of the city’s feral bird population, a battalion of children holding big clusters of balloons and wearing multi-colored tinsel life preservers marched into the square, singing and waving. In their middle was a float with two children under a golden arch in some sort of Chinese Scout uniform waving at the dignitaries. On cue they released the balloons and ran yelling towards the viewing platform, no doubt producing just for an instant the sense of what it would be like if the peasants decided to storm the gates of the citadel. But they stopped and stood waving their inner tubes over their heads, much to the delight of the men above.
And then it was over, just like that.