China turns 60

Patrick Miner

Yesterday was China’s 60th National Day. National Day marks the founding of The People’s Republic of China, which took place Oct. 1, 1949, when Chairman Máo Zédong proclaimed the formation of the new government at Tian’anmén Square.
The six decades since have seen immense changes unlike any other time in China’s 5,000-year history. Maoist reforms brought about modernizing shifts in culture and economy as well as unprecedented hardship and millions of deaths. The people of the PRC have much to consider as they reflect on 60 years as a “People’s Democratic Dictatorship.”
China has the largest population in the world, the second largest land area, and its economy is now the third largest. More people speak Chinese as their first language than any other language, and one out of every five people in the world are of Chinese descent.
While Máo is still widely revered in China, opinions are split on his place in history and the amount of emphasis that National Day deserves. Many Chinese are not enthused about the patriotic celebrations taking place over the next few days. For many, it is simply a chance to get away from everyday life. Some are traveling, while others plan to stay at home to enjoy the vacation.
Though this is a particularly important anniversary, as 60 years is the Chinese calendar equivalent of a century, the festivities are being overshadowed by the government’s security precautions. In Beijing, over 500,000 government security forces and workers are tasked with maintaining order. Fighter jets roam the skies, and tanks are rolling down the streets.
Students at the Capital University of Economics and Business, where I’m currently studying Chinese language, can’t take one step outside the school without seeing a government security agent. Thousands of flags, posters and banners line the streets.
Government-placed red banners tell citizens to put safety first and to celebrate the occasion. One hanging just outside the north gate of the university reads, approximately, “Warmly celebrate the 60th anniversary of New China.”
It’s an interesting experience to witness the celebration of National Day, especially just one year after the similarly spectacular summer Olympics. Beijing is all at once modern, ancient, polluted, dirty and beautiful. The juxtaposition of China’s new, commercialized image against the imagery recalled by the tanks that roll on Tian’anmén is eerie. Memory is something the government cannot mask with banners or fireworks. The past has yielded great changes for the PRC, and China continues to change today. But what is to come?