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Big plans in China for revolution's 60th anniversary

Preparations are underway for the Oct. 1 festivities, which promise to recreate some of the dazzle of the Olympics ceremonies. Critics fault plans for a huge military display.

March 08, 2009|Barbara Demick

BEIJING — The Chinese Communist Party loves its anniversaries, so it comes as no surprise that the bosses in Beijing are planning a blowout to commemorate the 60th year since the nation's founding.

President Hu Jintao has commissioned an extra-stretch limousine, 19 feet long, for the October festivities. A year before the occasion, the Beijing municipality put out advertisements for women between the ages of 17 and 25 (height between 5 feet 3 and 5 feet 7) to perform in a parade; rehearsals began in December.

"This is the tradition in communist culture. They use these grand occasions to justify their existence," said Li Datong, former editor of a supplement of the China Youth Daily and now a pro-democracy activist.

But critics of the Communist Party love anniversaries too, and 2009 is fraught with sensitive ones: Tuesday is the 50th anniversary of an uprising in Tibet that led to the flight of the Dalai Lama to India. On June 4, it is the 20th anniversary of the bloody crackdown on student demonstrations at Tiananmen Square. And on July 22, the 10th anniversary since the banning of the spiritual group called Falun Gong.

At the same time, the Oct. 1 anniversary festivities, which are supposed to re-create some of the glitz of the 2008 Summer Olympics, carry the same risks as the Games, in that anything in China that occasions large crowds also triggers protests. Just as happened last year in the run-up to the Olympics, extra troops and armed police are being deployed in likely trouble spots.

At times, the government itself appears to be using the anniversaries to provoke its critics.

The most blatant example is the anniversary Tuesday of the failed 1959 revolt in Tibet that led to the Dalai Lama's exile, viewed by many Tibetans as the most tragic event of their recent history. Last year the day saw violent protests across the Tibetan regions of western China.

But the pro-Chinese officials in Tibet have declared a holiday on March 28, the anniversary of the dissolution of the old Tibetan government, and called it "Serf Emancipation Day," reflecting the official Chinese position that they liberated the Tibetans from a brutal feudal regime.

Various events are scheduled across China, including in Beijing, where an exhibit opened Feb. 24 at the Cultural Palace of Nationalities hailing "democratic reforms" brought by China to Tibet.

"This is all very provocative. They are trying to turn what is a moment of humiliation into a celebration," said Tsering Shakya, a Tibetan historian based in Canada.

The 60th anniversary celebrations have also inspired criticism for the display of force that is planned for the capital Oct. 1: The People's Liberation Army is set to hold the largest military parade in the nation's history.

Showcasing what successive years of double-digit defense budget increases have bought, the Chinese have promised to display some of their newest weaponry as well as the usual tanks, armored vehicles, artillery, missiles, attack planes, bombers and helicopters.

"It is a throwback to the Cold War," said Zhou Xiaozheng, a professor of sociology at People's University in Beijing. "This is supposed to be an era of cooperation, peace and harmonious society, so I can't understand why they feel the need to show off for foreign countries like this and waste so much money."

Whereas the Olympics makeover was mostly in north Beijing, this year the focus is in the heart of the city, especially around Tiananmen Square, where Mao Tse-tung announced the birth of the People's Republic of China on Oct. 1, 1949.

Along the parade route, streets are being widened; parks, monuments, subway stations refurbished. A training village is being built in the suburbs. Zhang Yimou, who directed the spectacular Olympics opening ceremony in August, has been tapped to stage a huge outdoor party with fireworks. Feature films, commemorative television specials and an opera have been commissioned.

The organizing committee for the 60th anniversary is located in the former offices of the Olympics organizing committee, and has hired some of its staff members. But Zhang Heping, a key official for the Games' opening and closing ceremonies and who is organizing the anniversary events, promises that the costs will not be Olympian.

"The scale of the event has to be appropriate and the budget must be thrifty," Zhang recently told business reporters.

He did not disclose a budget.

Many prominent directors and actors have promised to donate their time for an epic film on China's founding -- what Han Sanping, chairman of the China Film Group Corp., called a "gift to mother."

"I told them, 'Our mother is celebrating her 60th birthday. Would you love to join in?' " Han, who is directing the film, was quoted as telling the state-run China Daily. "And none of them said, 'No.' "

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barbara.demick@latimes.com

Nicole Liu in The Times' Beijing Bureau contributed to this report.

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

In Mao's words

This year, China will celebrate the 60th anniversary of the day that Mao Tse-tung declared the founding of the nation. Some famous quotes from the Communist leader:

'Classes struggle, some classes triumph, others are eliminated. Such is history; such is the history of civilization for thousands of years.'

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'Let a hundred flowers bloom, let a hundred schools of thought contend.'

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'A revolution is not a dinner party, or writing an essay, or painting a picture, or doing embroidery.'

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'To read too many books is harmful.'

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'War can only be abolished through war, and in order to get rid of the gun it is necessary to take up the gun.'

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