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For Love of Party?

For Love of Party?

Friday morning in Beijing, the TV sets inside subway cars that typically play ads for skin whiteners, slimming treatments, and home appliances instead blared marshal music. That was more difficult to ignore than the usual commercial jingles. One passenger in her 20s scowled as one might scowl at a screaming child on an airplane.

The subway TVs — like all public TVs in Beijing — were tuned to a live broadcast of the day’s massive parade in Tiananmen Square to mark the 90th anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party. Images of the parade, interspersed with close-ups of top Party officials, flickered on TV sets inside banks, bus depots, and doctors’ offices across the city. I never saw anyone actually watching, but you could hardly avoid being made aware of the event.

It’s a bit of a strange celebration. And not at all because the accompanying state-run newspaper stories are presenting a selective version of history (nothing new there). Rather, it’s strange because 90 is an odd anniversary to mark — the centennial minus ten years has something of anti-climatic ring to it. More importantly, it’s strange because the parade and related fanfare (souvenir subway maps, etc.) are taking a host of images, themes, and songs usually trotted out to burnish the glory of China and instead using them to polish the reputation, explicitly and exclusively, of the CCP. As if the two were interchangeable.

In fact, the rising, chest-pumping patriotism that many Chinese now feel is for good reason focused on China — the place, the people, the culture — not on the Communist Party. T-shirts read "I love China," and I’m occasionally told by Beijingers, "China Number 1," and they do mean China. So it’s not clear who, exactly, is expected to get teary-eyed when the parade marchers loft a red flag with a yellow hammer and sickle, the flag not of the country but of the Party? Is the spectacle for the Party cadres themselves? Or is it the organizers’ ambition to somehow transfer patriotic sentiment from country to Party? That does seems an unpromising crusade. After all: the Party is only 90, but as any good patriot will tell you, China has 5,000 years of continuous history.