Helicopters roared over Beijing in formation displaying “100,” followed by fighter jets streaming coloured smoke, while a 100-gun salute echoed in Tiananmen Square – much pomp as the ruling Communist Party marked its centenary on Thursday.
The party’s “glorious journey” over the decades means “any attempt to divide the Chinese people from the party is bound to fail,” said leader Xi Jinping, China’s most powerful leader since Mao Zedong, after axing term limits.
“We will never allow any foreign power to bully, oppress, or subjugate us,” said Mr Xi, 68, who heads the government, party and military. “Anyone who attempts to do that will find their heads bashed, bloodied against the Great Wall of Steel forged by over 1.4 billion people.”
“National rejuvenation” has been the party’s priority over the past century, and will continue to be so, Mr Xi said, using the term at least 25 times in a speech lasting 66 minutes.
At home, China’s big birthday – designed to burnish Mr Xi’s credentials – comes after the country recovered relatively quickly from the coronavirus pandemic, and as membership in the ruling party swells to 95 million people.
Still, Mr Xi’s remarks were defiant, even foreboding, saying “China’s complete reunification is a historic mission and an unshakable commitment of the Communist Party.”
He extended “sincere greetings to compariots in Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan special administrative regions,” a departure from how Taiwan is usually referenced, in a translation of his remarks.
Taiwan, an island with its own democratic government, military, currency and foreign policy, has long been regarded by Beijing as a renegade province. Chinese military incursions into Taiwanese airspace and waters have ramped up lately, fuelling worries that Mr Xi will use force to bring the island to heel.
Beijing’s imposition of a national security law on Hong Kong last year after mass demonstrations in 2019 – a public challenge to Mr Xi’s power – has further added to concerns that a heavy-handed approach may be in store for Taiwan.
“No one should underestimate the resolve, the will and ability of the Chinese people to define their national sovereignty and territorial integrity,” he said, flanked by China’s most powerful men.
Carrie Lam, Hong Kong’s chief executive, attended the anniversary celebrations in Beijing – yet another sign of the territory’s diminishing autonomy.
Her attendance marked the first time a chief executive was absent from events in Hong Kong to mark another anniversary – when the territory was returned from British to Beijing rule in 1997.
Authorities have started to frame the date as the anniversary of the “establishment of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region,” rather than as the date of “handover” in sovereignty.
Under Mr Xi, China has embarked on a campaign to recast history by deleting past mistakes from the official narrative – mass famine under Chairman Mao; the Tiananmen Square massacre when the Chinese military killed hundreds, possibly thousands, of peaceful pro-democracy demonstrators in 1989.
More recently, China has glossed over its cover-up in the early days of the coronavirus outbreak, instead focusing on Mr Xi’s leadership in the “people’s war” against the pandemic.
The message is that the party – with Mr Xi at the helm – will always be the vanguard of China. The Chinese government has also emphasised the country’s stability in contrast to what it portrays as ineffective politicking in Western democracies.
Efforts to stamp out what China deems “historical nihilism” are part of Mr Xi’s push to ensure the party has at least another 100 years to go, and for his legacy as leader will be remembered.
China has been preparing for its centenary for months, with red propaganda banners unfurled and displayed across the country: “Long live the party!” “Always follow the party!” “Warmly celebrate the party’s 100th anniversary.”
Ethnic minorities including Uyghurs were forced to leave Beijing. Around major political events, China spares no expense in ‘stability maintenance’ in order to ensure everything goes off without a hitch.
This week, skyscrapers in Beijing were illuminated in red for the centenary, with dramatic light shows in cities from Shanghai to Guangzhou.
Authorities restricted both airspace and airwaves, banning airborne items such as balloons, kites and drones, as well as blocking radio transmissions and wireless networks.
On many street corners, red umbrellas sprang up to offer shade from summer sun for volunteers with red armbands surveilling neighbourhoods. Cities across the country also had an increased armed security presence.
As Mr Xi’s televised remarks concluded, the audience rose to sing a song: “Without the Communist Party, There Would Be No New China.”
“The Communist Party or one heart saved China,” the masses belted in unison. “It led China toward the light.”