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Communist China at 70

Patriotism grips China's youth ahead of anniversary celebrations

Strong approval of leadership belies concerns over their future

BEIJING -- On Oct. 1, the largest military procession Beijing will have witnessed in decades will file past Tiananmen Square to mark the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China.

Some 100,000 military personnel and performers will partake in the expected 80-minute parade that will include 160 military aircraft and 580 state-of-the-art weapons systems.

This extravagant show of might and power comes at a sensitive time for Beijing on the world stage. China is facing a protracted trade and tech war with the U.S., while anti-establishment protests have paralyzed Hong Kong for nearly four months. Added to that, Western media is increasingly shining a light on Beijing's internment of Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang camps.

Yet, while Beijing is facing these headaches, local Chinese youth have been whipped into a patriotic fervor by the daily propaganda over the celebrations and promises of fireworks, pageantry and fanfare.

"I wish I could watch the magnificent military parade in Beijing," said Lian Dongni, a 25-year-old clerk in Shenzhen, the technology hub that borders Hong Kong where fireworks to celebrate the national day have been banned this year due to the protests.

Zhao Lin, a 27-year-old software engineer in Shanghai, said: "I wish China could get back Taiwan," referring to the island that China considers part of its territory.

A heart-shaped Chinese flag installation ahead of the 70th founding anniversary of People's Republic of China is seen on a street in Shanghai on Thursday.   © Reuters

Chinese authorities have seized the occasion to hail the country's recent transformation under President Xi Jinping and to instill a strong sense of nationalism.

"It will motivate and encourage all party members, all military personnel and people across all ethnic groups to work tirelessly in realizing the Chinese dream of national rejuvenation," Major General Cai Zhijun, deputy director of the Leading Group Office of Military Parade, said on Tuesday.

Xi will deliver a speech during the celebrations that is expected to attribute China's rapid economic growth to the effective rule of the Chinese Communist Party. Apart from drumming up confidence in his government and the country's achievements, Xi is also likely to offer a veiled message to the U.S. President Donald Trump ripped into Beijing's trade practices in a speech this week at the United Nations.

Over 40 dignitaries, including former Cuban President Raul Castro and the eldest sister of the Thai king, Princess Chakri Sirindhorn, will be honored for their contribution to China's development.

People on Thursday walk along Chinese national flags hung on Beijing street stores to mark the anniversary.   © Reuters

More than 10 young people interviewed by the Nikkei Asian Review all spoke highly of the party's leadership, saying they were proud of China's position on the world stage. Most of the interviewees were born after 1990 under China's then one-child policy.

To them, the upheavals of the Cultural Revolution and hardships endured during the early days of liberalization were their parents' memories.

"It must have been tough," said Wang Zijun, a 27-year-old beautician in Beijing. She said China's youth must appreciate the sacrifices the older generations made for the country to become the world's second largest economy.

Bai Tingting, a hotel clerk aged 25 in Guangdong, hoped that China would one day soon overtake the U.S. to become the world's largest economy.

Tang Qiaoye, a 29-year-old high school teacher in Nanjing, said that her generation can hold their heads up high and also enjoy better welfare, thanks to the pain and suffering the older generations had gone through.

Despite such patriotic feelings, some expressed concerns about the rising cost of living.

"Healthcare and education costs are too high," said Dai Yongxue, a 30-year-old hotel receptionist in Tangzhou who has a three-year-old son. This sentiment was echoed by Tang, who is expecting her first child soon.

These concerns reflect a growing wealth gap in the country. The per capita disposable income for the middle class in urban households was 33,781 yuan ($4,734) in 2017, more than double that in the rural areas, according to official data.

Beijing will have to address the structural problems of the economy and implement reforms that could inflict short-term pain. But for now, the leadership has captured the imagination of the country's youth and a successful parade will help to temporarily mask the problems ahead.

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