Little more than a week from now, TV channels across China--and news stations around the world--are likely to be blanketed with Soviet-esque military parades and other fun displays of Chinese chauvinism at its most presentable. As we know from the Beijing Olympics, when it comes to triumphant displays, the Chinese government doesn't stint. And so it will be for this little party for the Party--the CCP "liberated" China some sixty years ago.
The organizers know that any successful birthday, like its confectionary, is a mix of ingredients. Our first ingredient is the sauce of delayed gratification: students at Chinese universities have been ordered to remain studying until the very day before the celebrations, and not to get an early start traveling back home to their families for the national holiday. Certainly the Party has been burned by student idealism and discontent; the Party will chance no repeat of that old Tiananmen classic, 'Student versus Tank'. Next fold in the solidity of government strictures against hospitality: In Beijing, residents are being told to not invite friends or family to stay during what has long been one of three main Chinese holiday periods. Furthermore, the residents have also been told to seal their windows and stay off of balconies facing the parade route. Apparently, the festivities are primarily meant for the vetted participants and for the cameras, not for the common people of Beijing.
Add a bitter note of ethnic strife: the Party is taking no chances in Tibet, where foreign visitors are under yet further strictures (the few allowed in: NYTimes reports that China has now barred any further applications for foreigners to visit Tibet during the next three weeks); the government also reports having foiled a bomb plot in Xinjiang/East Turkestan, the restive Turkic territory in western China. Racial tensions are not going to disappear any time soon, and what better time for one to show displeasure with cultural assimilation than at the birthday bash of their oppressors?
And let us finish this concoction with a lascivious frosting... but not to be eaten until later, lest it distract from those glorious, oppressive flavors: as my family observed*, pink-light districts across China have been shuttered at least for the duration of the celebrations. Yes, that's right. Whores have been given an impromptu holiday in which they can celebrate the liberation of their country from bourgeosie depravity and exploitation. Doubtlessly, they'll be hard at work again in their parlors after the official vigilance has passed by again.
The flavors evoked by this mix of recent actions takes us back through the sixty years that the CCP has ruled China. While it is not fair to say that nothing has changed in their management of the country, it does make clear that heavy-handed control has never gone out of style. Subtlety, like the fresh flavors of a Cantonese dim sum delight, has never overtaken firey bombast and overkill--as exemplified by the mouth-destroying explosions of Sichuan pepper--in popularity with China's movers and shakers. The country has grown richer, more cosmopolitan, and yes, almost a parody of bourgeosie affectations, but the strategy and methodology of China's rulers hasn't really changed much in the more than 2,000 years of their imperial dominion. So, forget about a mere 60 years of communist dominion, let us give factual wishes for a chronologically greater episodic subjugation:
Happy 2,370th birthday, emperors of China past and present! May your actions bear strange and difficult fruit.
(*Yes, my sister was interested in seeing, in passing, the 'pink light' beauty parlors that infest China's cities. However, in neighorhoods of Xingyi and Chongqing once chock full of such places, almost every store front was shuttered. Other symbols of the pampered bourgeosie were not given repreive, however: our bus passed by a truck full of caged dogs bound for the restaurant.)