Strangely fascinating: China's 60th anniversary fanfare

Golden week came and went in high Indian summer up here in Qingdao. Temperatures in the thirties in the second week of October. Hasn’t rained for months. Big fat flies laze around, eating filth, landing with heavy little legs and a total lack of grace on your skin, billions of them, breeding like flies. Sounds familiar.

The huge day came with much fanfare; the 60th Anniversary of the Founding of the People’s Republic of China. (Heard that phrase a thousand times a day for the last few months.)

Patriotism is a dying instinct in most parts of the world (besides certain crimson-collared swathes of the U.S.), but not here.

Red flags have been flying from every conceivable spot, banners promoting the Motherland hang from every hoarding and fresh flowers in pots (for later removal) have been arranged to carpet the city, sidewalks, shop windows, around the base of trees and light-posts.

“Ai-guo” — Love of Country — is the key word. It isn’t subtly applied either.

News bulletins from the state TV station begin with one of three phrases: the name of the president, the name of the premier or the words: The People’s Republic of China. Not much in the way of world news.

When you live in a resort on China’s Bao-hai Sea Riviera, you might be forgiven for thinking that the rest of the world just slid off the planet into oblivion. This place is after all – what they call it again – China – the Middle Kingdom.

Strangely, nobody seemed to be watching the big screen erected down near the May 4th square and all I saw were commercials for new cars.

But not to cavil. The birthday celebrations covered much more than the military parade itself. There were the 56 (or is it more) ethnic peoples who live under the Han banner on display with folk dances and musical arts and the day-to-night was a spectacle as spectacular as one has come to expect of the Chinese and their favored director, Zhang Yi-mou.

That night at Qingdao, overlooking the moonlit beach, the Chinese do what they do best: fireworks! Multi-colored sea anemones and jelly fish undulating in the night sky with a craggy, silvery mountain backdrop. Psychedelic rainbow bursts and sparkling cascades of color make the heavens man’s palette. And later, the people themselves, out in their always vast numbers, light red paper lanterns, release them to rise majestically into the starry night, floating ethereally out over the ocean to fade away as distant smudges of blush on the cheeks of the firmament.

Lingering on are those inerasable images from the Military parade. No apologies from here, but it was fascinating, indeed, strangely enticing, to watch spellbound at the moment of salute, the screamed commands, the echoing blasted war-cries and the boots smacked down in staccato goosestep. Especially alluring were the pulchritudinous female contingents; some made up of ex-models and starlets especially selected and in training for half a year for the grand moment.

The Beijing Women’s Militia were particularly fetching in pink hats, short skirts, white stockings and white sixties knee boots. The gloved arms swinging, the crisp stamping feet and the deafening banshee wail made for a mighty testosterone-adrenalin rush.

The party lasted for days — swiftly followed by the Mid-Autumn festival. There were forty thousand weddings registered in Shanghai on the PRC’s 60th birthday and they all came up to Qingdao for the holiday to have their wedding album photos taken on the beach. Exotic sight that: eight in the morning with the grandmother of all hangovers taking a stroll by the seaside and spotting a thousand brides in their white (hired) finery, clambering over the seaweed-strewn rocks, while the peasant cockle-pickers and scavengers in their coolie( ku-li = bitter work) hats squatted and poked into the mud. Eye-blinking, headshaking stuff.

From all reports up here in Qingdao — China’s Rio — most people apparently couldn’t give a fig (or chestnut as they are in season) for the birthday celebrations. But the Mid-Autumn was a bigger show, with mobbed families out and about looking for a clear spot on the beach to watch the moon. But there were hardly any barbecues — not like dear old Taiwan.

The traditions of China were obliterated during the decimating upheavals of the Great Leap Forward and the murderous Cultural Revolution. Only now are they making a comeback.

It’s a straggly comeback and done in a strictly Middle Kingdom-ish way. No barbeque, no pomelos, no bonfires. There was an encounter with a single, measly mooncake full of mashed sesame and musky flour – inedible.

Being a Taiwanite there was a solemn duty to fill the New Chinese in on the delights of salted-duck-egg-ice cream mooncakes from the lovely old rock.

Happy DTs!

Jonathan Chandler is a British novelist currently based in Qingdao, China, and writes this column exclusively for The Wild East. If you’d like to reach him or inquire about syndication of his work in your publication, email jonathan at jagchandler dot com.

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