Why Tuesday’s crowd was different – Ian Johnson

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Ian Johnson

Journalist Ian Johnson attended China’s National Day celebrations in Beijing and noted – apart from the military parade and obligatory propaganda, the crowd was different from earlier celebrations. “Tuesday’s crowd was different. It was made up of university professors, scientists, administrators, bureaucrats and people who had made some sort of contribution to the state. They weren’t props but excited participants who expected to remember this day,” he writes in the New York Times.

Ian Johnson:

Attending China’s National Day celebrations over the years has been a bit like listening to different takes of a song, with the composer honing the themes and jettisoning the raw bits until the piece sounds just right.

That’s how I felt at Tuesday’s celebrations on Tiananmen Square, held to observe the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China. I’ve attended two other ceremonies like this before — for the 35th anniversary in 1984 and the 50th in 1999 — and I knew the basic drill: There would be a big military parade followed by floats celebrating the government’s accomplishments.

But this show felt bigger and brassier than either of those, as if the composer had decided to use every instrument in the orchestra and cast subtlety aside. It was slick and sleek, but also overpowering and at times bombastic.

When I received my invitation, government officials told me that I was lucky to attend because it was such a great honor. I nodded politely but only really understood what they meant when I arrived at Tiananmen Square on Tuesday at 6 a.m. We media types were just a few hundred in a sea of loyal members of the Chinese Communist Party (C.C.P.), and for many of them it must have felt like one of the biggest events of their lives.

It would be easy to write these people off as extras. And 20 years ago, the last time I was at such an event, the people in attendance were mainly highly trained performers who held aloft placards that spelled out different messages, North Korea–style. But Tuesday’s crowd was different. It was made up of university professors, scientists, administrators, bureaucrats and people who had made some sort of contribution to the state. They weren’t props but excited participants who expected to remember this day.

More in The New York Times.

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