How China’s Public Saw the Beijing Parade

Though Thursday’s grand military parade in Beijing cast a barrage of accusations at , a glimpse of carrier-killing missiles at the U.S., and a catalog of other weaponry at potential buyers, its primary audience was at home. At Medium, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s Yinuo Li reported that the event was warmly received by many Chinese, and explained why:

On WeChat (the largest social media platform in China), postings regarding this parade are overwhelmingly positive, including postings from my own “friend circle”, many of them in the US. […]

[…] The emotion behind this positivity is not for the “show” itself, rather a memory of and the long way China has come in these 70 years. As I wrote in an earlier issue, the ~ 100 years of in China following the 1840 Opium War has been an endless stretch of darkness — invasion, defeat, failure and humiliation. Troops from multiple countries came and invaded, looted, and colonized. This stretch culminated with the Japanese invasion from 1931–1945, during which time there were 35 million casualties in China, accounting for 1/3 of the world’s total casualties during WWII. China also faced 2/3 of the armed forces of Japan, making a major contribution to the allied victory in WWII. The 1945 victory was China’s first in a stretch of 105 years.

[…] Many of the postings on social media in China are people sharing old pictures and stories of their grandparents, reflecting how much the country had changed from a place of despair and devastation to independence and prosperity. This sentiment is quite a contrast to what’s on the western media, most of which took a distant and detached observer role in their coverage. They all seem to be busy coming up with smart opinions and judgments of this event, as a habitual behavior when it comes any topics related to China, with a lack of empathy and little effort of even trying to understand the historical context for this event. [Source]

President Xi Jinping’s pre-parade address focused heavily on this national journey from humiliation to rejuvenation, describing Japan’s defeat as the key turning point and stressing the Party’s role in its continuation. From Xinhua:

The victory of the Chinese People’s War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression is the first complete victory won by China in its resistance against foreign aggression in modern times. This great triumph crushed the plot of the Japanese militarists to colonize and enslave China and put an end to China’s national humiliation of suffering successive defeats at the hands of foreign aggressors in modern times. This great triumph re-established China as a major country in the world and won the Chinese people respect of all peace-loving people around the world. This great triumph opened up bright prospects for the great renewal of the Chinese nation and set our ancient country on a new journey after gaining rebirth.

[…] As an ancient Chinese saying goes, “After making a good start, we should ensure that the cause achieves fruition.” The great renewal of the Chinese nation requires the dedicated efforts of one generation after another. Having created a splendid civilization of over 5,000 years, the Chinese nation will certainly usher in an even brighter future.

Going forward, under the leadership of the of China, we, people of all ethnicities across the country, should take Marxism-Leninism, Mao Zedong Thought, Deng Xiaoping Theory, the important thought of Three Represents and the Scientific Outlook on Development as our guide to action. We should follow the path of socialism with Chinese characteristics, pursue the four-pronged comprehensive strategy, promote patriotism and the great spirit of resisting aggression and forge ahead as one to reach our goals. [Source]

Xi’s emphasis on the Party’s leadership, which did not take hold nationally until after the war, conveyed the heavy political subtext to the celebration. The New Yorker’s Evan Osnos described the parade as a move to bolster the Party’s legitimacy in the face of slowing economic growth and stock market upheaval:

If the economy can only provide a diminishing political dividend, Chinese leaders will encourage their people to feel pride and vigor in other ways. “In defiance of aggression, the unyielding Chinese people fought gallantly and finally won total victory against the Japanese militarist aggressors, thus preserving China’s five-thousand-year-old civilization and upholding the cause of peace of mankind,” President told the crowd on Thursday. “This remarkable feat made by the Chinese nation was rare in the history of war.”

[… F]rom the organizers’ perspective, the world was a secondary audience. The goal was to rally support and pride at home, and in that respect it was a great success. Those following on social media appeared to be thrilled; even snarky college students took a moment to marvel at how far China has come in building a national defense that could prevent the country from being brutalized as it was in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. At the end of the parade, seventy thousand doves fluttered past the missiles, up into the Beijing sky.

Chinese leaders aren’t foolish, and know that the outside world will be slightly spooked by the display. But, for the moment, there are more pressing matters: keeping their own people onside at a moment of acute economic distress. […] [Source]

Others provided similar but sometimes more mixed assessments of the prevailing mood online:

At The Guardian Fergus Ryan gathered numerous examples of both pride and mockery, including some censored material. More social media reactions are compiled at CDT Chinese.

Kyodo reported on Chinese traveling to Japan for the holiday amid a wider surge in visits, including 576,900 in July.

South China Morning Post’s Zhuang Pinghui presented some perspectives from Beijing residents offline:

Ren Zhixin, 30, advertising agency employee – ‘I was very touched’

I am very impressed by the formations, especially the veteran formation. I was very touched to see them on television wiping sweat and tears. The parade showed the army was so powerful but it is for peace. This display demonstrates the military power for disputes such as the Diaoyu Islands. There have been inconveniences such as traffic-control measures, but the parade is a national event and we should be understanding and supportive.

Xie Luyan, 33, accountant – ‘I watched with awe’

This is a very new experience for me – it’s the first time I have seen a parade, even though it is only on television. Some planes flew above our neighbourhood and it was such a strong visual impact. I watched with awe the part where President Xi Jinping inspected the troops and arms. The weapons and troops showed a strong and powerful China and I am very proud. All the inconvenience of trying to get to work was worth it. [Source]

At Foreign Policy, though, Alec Ash wondered how deeply the parade had resonated with younger Chinese:

To be sure, young Chinese who are natives of its reform era can be patriotic without being frothing-at-the-mouth nationalist, and are largely more confident in the notion of China as a strong world power than their parents’ generation are. Deng Min was born in 1976, the same year Chairman Mao died, and has witnessed the changes over her lifetime. She claims she remembers seeing images on television of injured Chinese soldiers returning home after a disastrous war with Vietnam in 1979. “My family brought eggs from home and gave them to soldiers,” she told me. “Now China’s army is much greater. Now, no one wants to pick a fight with China.”

The pomp and circumstance of this year’s Victory Day parade is the party’s latest bid to connect love of country to a love of the state, and to remind anyone listening that China’s return to health took place under its guidance. But while the volunteer Miao in my hutong freely donates his time to help the city ready itself for the festivities, younger Chinese are generally more skeptical about state-driven jingoism. As Hong Wei described the national holiday, “It doesn’t have anything to do with my daily life.” For him and the rest of his peers, the politics behind the national holiday aren’t half as important as the chance to take a break, enjoy the blue skies, and sit outside to watch summer end. [Source]