Q&A: Geremie R. Barmé

On his blog, Evan Osnos interviews Geremie R. Barmé about the imagery and significance of Chinese military parades, like tomorrow’s massive spectacle to welcome National Day. From Barmé’s reply:

What was once fairly much of an internal affair observed eagerly by Zhongnanhai-watchers anxious to gauge the pecking order of China’s secretive leadership has become, this time around, quite a media circus. China’s leadership politics is as opaque as ever, but the parade remains an event primarily designed for the domestic audience. It is meant to educate, excite, unite and entertain. If a tad of “shock and awe” is delivered around the world, all well and good. But as the old Party cliché holds, such events must essentially satisfy the “two olds” (er lao): the “Old Cadres” (lao ganbu) and the “Old Hundred Names” (lao baixing), that is, the broad masses of Chinese people.

Having said this, we should remember that, apart from those up on the rostrum of Tiananmen Gate, the parade and the festivities are primarily produced for a TV audience (as well as spinoff Internet and DVD viewers). As they have for sixty long years, the residents of the capital provide the fodder, the backdrop, the crowds, and the logistical wherewithal for the lavish display, but they are not its target audience. For the most part, locals are required to stay off the streets, keep indoors, and make like the rest of the country: behave and watch the show on the tube. In the past, as in 1999, for instance, the masses were allowed out onto Tiananmen the following day to look at and be photographed with the amassed floats (caiche) that have featured in the day’s parade and the evening’s carefully managed “party.”

Barmé has also published two pieces about the history of China’s National Day celebrations in China Heritage Quarterly, available here and here.


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