CHINA HERITAGE QUARTERLY China Heritage Project, The Australian National University ISSN 1833-8461
No. 18, June 2009


1999: The First Half-century | China Heritage Quarterly

1999: The First Half-century

Geremie R. Barmé and Lois Conner

The fiftieth anniversary of the People's Republic of China was marked by another grand celebration (daqing 大庆), which culminated in a formal military parade and mass demonstration in Tiananmen Square in the centre of the city on 1 October 1999. That night, as was normal for such state spectacles, a carefully choreographed mass party was held in the square with firework displays.

In preparation for the 1 October gala major public works were undertaken. Buildings were painted, roads resurfaced, streets cleaned and social misfits hidden away. The numbers of the politically unacceptable had increased exponentially from April that year when a major nationwide purge of heterodox religious sects was launched by the authorities. This practice of 'cleansing the capital' (jinghua shoudu 净化) at various junctures has a venerable history and heritage all of its own. Just as old buildings were destroyed and histories obliterated to created an expanded Tiananmen Square for the tenth anniversary of the People's Republic in 1959, so for the fiftieth anniversary in 1999 a new wave of urban destruction, and social engineering, was unleashed.

This fervour for 'urban renewal', as apologists would call it, was most evident in the devastation of Wangfu Jing 王府井, known during the Republican era in English as Morrison Street. It was so named because of the residence (and vast library) of the Anglo-Australian journalist George E. Morrison (see Claire Roberts, 'George E. Morrison's Studio and Library' in the Features section of the March 2008 issue of this journal here).

In this photo essay, we start by recalling the official account of the 1 October 1999 National Day parade in Tiananmen Square. This is followed by a series of images by the New York-based photographer Lois Conner of some of the floats (caiche 彩车) that featured in the parade. The floats in this selection represent some of the provinces and regions of the People's Republic. This is followed by two portraits made in Tiananmen during the celebrations and a series of images showing the destruction and rebuilding of Wangfu Jing in the months leading up to the parade. Doubtlessly, there were mercantile imperatives to this remaking of the once-beloved main shopping street of the Chinese capital. It is now a broad 'pedestrian mall' (mo'er 摩尔, or buxingjie 步行街) flanked by large and undistinguished high-rise commercial properties.

The Parade

As we noted in 'Thirteen National Days, a retrospective' (see Features, China Heritage Quarterly, Issue 17, March 2009, here). The officiating state leader was Jiang Zemin, Chairman of the Central Military Commission of the Chinese Communist Party. The parade features review of 11,000 soldiers and China's latest armaments.

The New China News Agency headlines for the day were: The solemn celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China; a grand military parade and mass demonstration were held in the capital; Jiang Zemin reviewed the troops and made an important speech; Li Peng, Zhu Rongji, Li Ruihuan, Hu Jintao, Wei Jianxing and Li Lanqing joined with 500,000 soldiers and people to participate in the celebrations.

The official slogans for the day included (apart from the usual paeans to the state, the Party, the army and the unity of the peoples of China): Raise high the great banner of Deng Xiaoping theory and advance on the new century! Open door and reform, science and education to build the nation, rush to the next century! National unity, one country two systems, reunite the motherland, peaceful development! Political stability, economic developments, cultural blossoming, social progress! Raise high the banner, carry the traditions forward, one heart and one mind, create greater glory! Pass political inspection, meet the military standard of toughness, a superior work style, clear standards, assurance of strength!

The parade featured statues of Mao, Zhou, Liu and Zhu De. A huge portrait of Deng Xiaoping was featured and a large photograph and statue of Jiang Zemin delivering the political report to the Fifteenth Party Congress was held aloft. Marx, Engels, Lenin and Stalin made their routine appearance.

Wangfu Jing: Lois Conner

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The Floats: Lois Conner

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Portraits in the Square: Lois Conner

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