Super-Size Me: More National Day News

Regular China Beat readers might have noticed that our posts suggesting articles and links to check out online generally take the form of a feature we call “The Five-List Plan.” Today, in recognition of the massive coverage of the PRC’s National Day and 60th anniversary celebration, we’ve decided to super-size this post. There are simply so many wonderful and fascinating things being written, spoken, photographed, and filmed in connection with the October 1 extravaganza that we couldn’t stop at five. Below, ten items worth checking out as the festivities get underway:

1. One of the persistent myths surrounding October 1, 1949 is that Mao Zedong stood atop the Tiananmen rostrum and declared “中国人民站起来了!” (“The Chinese people have stood up!”). While this is a great line . . . it’s not true. The South China Morning Post has put together a short video discussing the persistence of this myth, and we applaud their attempt to set the record straight (for a previous CB foray into mythbusting, check out Jeff Wasserstrom’s “Top-Five List of Shanghai Urban Legends”).

2. Released in Chinese theaters just in time for the National Day celebration, The Founding of a Republic is generating buzz, both for its enormous star-studded cast and its depiction of Chinese history and Mao Zedong’s rise. As this article on MSNBC’s World Blog points out, the movie is somewhat different from previous state-approved tellings of modern Chinese history:

There’s no question that the “The Founding of a Republic” is made in a refreshingly different way. Unlike other propaganda movies, which usually portray Mao’s Nationalist Party rivals as ruthless, cold-blooded, “counter revolutionaries,” Chiang Kai-shek and his son are shown for the first time having down- to-earth father-son moments. And his officers also display a human side, even when they talk about assassinations.

The movie also contains a rare sight – a drunken Mao and a singing Zhou Enlai (the first premier of the People’s Republic of China). Still, Mao and his party, living in earthen huts and forced to save candle light for meetings, are always portrayed as righteous and invincible against the U.S.-backed, totally corrupt, Nationalist forces (who eventually lose and flee to Taiwan).

3. The top of the Empire State Building will glow red and yellow tonight and tomorrow, in honor of the PRC’s 60th anniversary. This has angered some groups, particularly those which support Tibetan independence. The “City Room” blog of the New York Times discusses the story in brief here. David Flumenbaum’s piece at the Huffington Post takes a deeper look at the issue and has video of the building-lighting ceremony, as well as an interview Flumenbaum conducted with one of the protestors outside.

4. Shanghaiist drew our attention to an unusual celebration of National Day: a public garden in Panyu plans to host a grand opening celebration on the holiday as it unveils new “six-star” bathroom facilities. The bathrooms, constructed at a price tag of eight million yuan, are made of gold.

5. There have been lots of pictures lately showing the unusual and creative haircuts people have chosen in honor of the October 1 celebration. Chinese flags and Chairman Mao are popular choices; this one reproduces the full Tiananmen rostrum, complete with a flagpole on top. Some of these hairstyles are a bit more avant-garde, but all prominently feature copious amounts of red and gold hair dye.

6. For a different hair-related look at holiday celebrations, check out the sculptures that Beijing hairdresser Huang Xin is constructing: built entirely from hair clippings collected from his clients, the pieces are replicas of major Beijing landmarks, such as the Bird’s Nest stadium, the Monument to the People’s Heroes, and Tiananmen itself.

7. Jeff Wasserstrom has a piece at Foreign Policy on “The Autocrat’s Learning Curve,” a comparative look at Eastern Europe and China during the past few decades. Why did Communist rule fall in one locale yet endure in another? Wasserstrom argues that in the early 1990s, Chinese leaders understood that their control of the country was in jeopardy, and looked to events in Eastern Europe for guidance, of a sort:

China, unlike the Eastern European states, had early warning that its regime was about to fall; the entire world seemed to know it. That sense of urgency made Chinese leaders avid students of the Soviet Union’s downfall. The CCP charged official think tanks with discovering the keys to maintaining a monopoly on power, while avoiding the fate of erstwhile counterparts in Budapest, Bucharest, Prague, and Moscow.

What did the Chinese researchers learn? First, that Europe’s 1989 unrest was fueled by patriotism — a desire to rid their countries of regimes imposed from outside. Protesters in Europe also had a potent mix of economic and political grievances. Those in charge had claimed that Marxist regimes could compete with capitalist ones in material terms, but the night-and-day contrast between the creature comforts available on the two sides of the wall revealed the hollowness of this boast. Finally, Eastern Europe’s movements spread quickly because nearly everyone — regardless of their class — felt they were in the same boat. The only meaningful social divide was between a small privileged coterie of corrupt officials and the rest. And the rest was pretty much everyone.

It should be no surprise, then, that CCP leaders took steps to counter each of these lessons throughout the 1990s . . .

8. At the New Yorker, Evan Osnos conducts an interview with Geremie Barmé and questions him about the symbolism and spectacle of military parades in China. In a discussion ranging from the eighth century BCE to the present, Barmé traces the history of Chinese military parades, but reminds readers hoping for innovation that they will likely be disappointed. In Barmé’s words, “As we all know, design by committee might produce good mass spectacle, but anything truly inventive or quirky ends up as an outtake.”

9. Li Datong writes at Open Democracy about “Beijing’s credibility crisis” at its 60th birthday. Li discusses a number of problems that the Chinese government has faced in the past during these significant “9” years, but ends his essay with the suggestion that a current lack of popular confidence in the government poses the CCP’s most significant challenge yet. The root of the government’s crisis of credibility

. . . lies in people’s rising awareness of their rights and their desire to participate in politics – and the conflict between this and a closed, unsupervised and unfettered political system. This conflict is no longer merely theoretical; it is a living fact.

So the celebrations will take place against a background of fear that something will go wrong. There is tight security on a par with that for the Beijing Olympics, with three layers of monitoring to check people and vehicles entering the capital. Besides a large contingent of police and armed police, an army of 700,000 citizens has been mobilised to participate in security work – as if the country faces a dangerous enemy.

What air of celebration can there be? How long can these days of fear go on?

10. To end on a more upbeat note, however, check out Orville Schell’s article on “China’s Short March” at Project Syndicate. As he reflects on the problems that the US is attempting to resolve at the present time, Schell sees in China a spirit of boldness and innovation that stands in marked contrast to the paralysis of the West:

As governments across the West have become increasingly bogged down trying to fix a broken economy, China has been formulating a whole series of new, well-considered policies and forging ahead with bold decision-making to tackle one daunting problem after another. Triumphant from the 2008 Olympic Games, its leaders have undertaken the most impressive infrastructure program in history, implemented a highly successful economic stimulus package, and now are moving into the forefront of green technology, renewable energy, and energy efficiency – the activities out of which the new global economy is certain to grow.

In short, China is veritably humming with energy, money, plans, leadership, and forward motion, while the West seems paralyzed.

Perhaps, had he heard such a positive take on China’s position in the world vis-à-vis the West, Mao Zedong might have said “中国人民站起来了!”

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