President Xi Jinping is expected to use his keynote address marking the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Chinese Communist Party on Thursday to cement his position in history and rally the nation to face a monumental set of challenges ahead.
Few details about the grand celebration in central Beijing have been revealed, except that it will begin at 8am in Tiananmen Square. Xi, as the head of the party, is to deliver a speech and preside over a parade featuring representatives from all walks of life in a symbolic show of unity.
Sources said Xi would be joined by other top leaders as well as prominent party elders. All eyes will be watching to see whether his predecessors Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao will appear alongside him at the Gate of Heavenly Peace.
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Meticulously planned, the event will become an occasion for Xi to enshrine his position in party history.
“The parade will be organised according to the different periods of the past 100 years, highlighting the achievements of the party and, most importantly, the policy priorities of Xi in going forward,” said one source who has watched rehearsals for the event.
While there will be no military parade, about 80 PLA warplanes – including J-20 stealth fighter jets – will fly over the ceremony, making special air formations to mark the anniversary.
Observers said the ceremony would be a crucial moment for Xi in cementing his status as the “chosen leader for China’s national rejuvenation” ahead of the 20th national party congress next year and in putting him on the same pedestal as Mao Zedong, the founder of the People’s Republic, and former paramount leader Deng Xiaoping.
Alfred Wu, an associate professor at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore, said the comparison with Mao and Deng was inevitable.
“In 1949, Mao famously said that ‘the Chinese people have stood up’ when he addressed the nation from the Tiananmen rostrum and Deng was credited with giving the Chinese people wealth,” said Wu.
“Now it will be Xi’s turn to make China strong. There is no better time than this and [Xi] will use the occasion to rally the country as the party congress is just around the corner.”
Earlier this week, Xi bestowed medals on 29 party members at the Great Hall of the People for their contribution to the party.
Gu Su, a political scientist at Nanjing University in eastern China, expected Xi to say that the past 100 years have shown that the Chinese people had chosen the right path.
“[He will] say that the past 100 years have proven that [China’s] path is right, the leadership of the Communist Party is correct, and the party has not strayed from its original mission,” he said.
Both Wu and Gu agreed that Xi would emphasise party unity in his speech and expected Jiang and Hu to attend along with former premiers Zhu Rongji and Wen Jiabao if their health permits.
But the grand ceremony, which will be broadcast live on national television, will be off limits to most Beijing residents after the capital imposed strict traffic controls along with security checks and Covid-19 prevention measures to ensure the celebration will go without a hitch.
“It will be impossible for ordinary people to observe the pomp at close range,” said Tong Yuren, a 32-year-old engineer. “I’ve heard there may be a fireworks display in the evening but I still haven’t figured out where to watch it and how to get there.”
There have already been some fireworks – on Monday night, at a three-hour curtain-raiser at the “Bird’s Nest” stadium built for the 2008 Olympics.
Most of the 20,000 people present were officials and cadres and the event was not broadcast live. However, video footage of the fireworks display taken by residents has been circulating on social media.
While July 1 is the official anniversary of the ruling party’s founding, it is not a public holiday in mainland China, and the disruption to traffic and public transport in Beijing has prompted calls on social media for people to be given a day off.
Fu Xingguo, who lives in the southeast of the city and works for a construction firm, said he usually drives to a nearby station and takes the train to work. But the station will be closed on Thursday morning, so he will have to take a bus for part of the way and then switch to a subway, adding an hour to his usual journey time.
His company has arranged for staff to watch the ceremony in an office meeting room.
“I’m happy we’ll be able to watch the live broadcast,” Fu said. “The party has contributed a lot to the happiness of the people and I’m honoured to be able to participate in this way.”
Other residents said it will be a good day to stay at home. Hou Xin, an undergraduate student who lives about 2km (1.2 miles) from Tiananmen Square, said she was not planning to go out on Thursday because of traffic controls and the closure of popular shopping areas such as Wangfujing.
“There’s red flags everywhere, the mood in the city is like it was in 2008 during the Olympic Games,” she said. “It’s the party’s centenary so of course they’ve organised this celebration, but I’m surprised that security is so tight.”
Additional reporting by Jane Cai, Echo Xie and Guo Rui
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