China celebrated 60 years of Communist rule today with a spectacular display of patriotic zeal and military might designed to showcase its enormous wealth and meteoric rise in power.
Millions of dollars, months of rehearsals and masses of manpower went into today's festivities. Almost 5,000 soldiers goose-stepped through Tiananmen Square, organized according to their height, their chins held high at matching angles. They marched at exactly 116 paces a minute and were trained to blink only once every 40 seconds.
They were followed by more than 100,000 marching masses and 60 gaudily decorated floats designed to showcase China's achievements. No detail was overlooked. Even the weather, foggy over the last few days, was bright and sunny after the People's Liberation Army (PLA) conducted its largest ever cloud seeding effort to ensure clear skies.
The highlight of the parade was undoubtedly the dazzling display of military hardware. Rows of tanks rumbled through the square, followed by more than 50 new types of weapons -- all made in China -- including intercontinental ballistic missiles with nuclear capabilities. The demonstration was punctuated by 151 planes blazing through the sky, some trailing brightly colored smoke.
Minxin Pei, an adjunct senior associate with the Carnegie Endowment, told ABC News, "At the most symbolic level, it's a display of reaching strength. What can be more persuasive than a display of inter-continental ballistic missiles and goose-stepping soldiers? It says, 'We are strong and we want to remain strong.'"
It's a powerful message for the international community but also a rallying cry to inspire loyalty to the Communist party among China's 1.3 billion people.
It has been 60 years since Mao Zedong proclaimed the creation of the People's Republic of China with a forceful promise, "Ours will no longer be a nation subject to insult and humiliation. We have stood up."
President Hu Jintao rode in his Chinese-made, open-top limousine shouting "Hello comrades" to lines of troops, and he appeared to echo Mao's message, declaring in his speech, "We have triumphed over all sorts of difficulties and setbacks and risks to gain the greatest achievements evident to the world."
Behind the Pomp, China Faces Serious Problems
As Cheng Li, a senior associate at Brookings Institute, explained to ABC News, "The Chinese leadership wants to emphasize continuity because it is still ruled by the one party, the Communist party, so they want to continue that kind of legacy and inherit the revolutionary tradition. In a way, [President] Hu Jintao identifies himself as the fourth generation leader, so he wants to keep on that track and continue China's rise on the international stage."
Looming ominously behind the pomp and circumstance of today's festivities are the deep-seated problems that China faces. Worsening ethnic tensions, rampant corruption and a yawning wealth gap all pose serious challenges to the Communist Party. Against the backdrop of an extraordinary communication revolution, some analysts wonder whether the party is flexible enough to adapt.
As Cheng explains, "The world has changed so quickly and if the Chinese leadership does not change, does not move in that direction, they will face serious trouble in years to come. Chinese society has already changed: there's a rise of interest groups, there's a very dynamic private sector, people want to have the equal rights."
At the end of today's parade 60,000 doves were released into the cobalt blue sky, a symbol of China's self-proclaimed peaceful course of development and a stark contrast to the heavy artillery and massive show of force. It was an apt metaphor for a country that is more than capable of embodying contradictions.