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Preparing for Red October

China may be an ancient civilization, but on October 1, it celebrated its 68th birthday. It was on this day in 1949 that Chairman Mao stood atop the Gate of Heavenly Peace (Tiananmen) and declared the founding of The People’s Republic of China.

The holiday is called National Day, and it marks the beginning of what has come to be known as “Golden Week.” Basically, the entire nation has a seven-day holiday. The logic behind the holiday is not to give everyone a chance to bask in the glories of Communism, but so they can spend money.

Long live Chairman Mao! Now get out there and shop!

At the end of the week, the government will announce how much money was pumped into the economy; no doubt the amount will be glorious!

It makes me feel a bit old when I realize that I was in China for the 35th anniversary celebrations, in 1984. I was teaching at the Henan College of Education in Zhengzhou, Henan province at the time. To help the foreigners in the province (all 20 of us) get into the proper patriotic mood, the provincial Foreign Affairs Office arranged for us to sit in the VIP section for the big National Day parade in the city.

We sat there for hour upon hour as what seemed like delegations from every single work unit in the province marched past us, singing, dancing, clanging cymbals, beating drums, playing instruments, waving plastic flowers and inner tubes, and riding colorful floats. (We never figured out why the inner tubes!)

The holiday this year is unique in that it shares the month of October with a traditional holiday—Mid-Autumn Moon Festival on October 4—and the upcoming 19th Congress of the Chinese Communist Party. For the Moon Festival, Chinese gather with their friends and family to think of home. At the 19th Congress, delegates will gather in Beijing to “select” the Party leaders for the coming five years and will no doubt allow Party General Secretary Xi Jinping consolidate his power over the Party and the nation.

In preparation for the meetings, the entire country is being mobilized to make sure that everything goes off without a hitch. Security measures are being put into place. Internet filters are being turned up. Neighborhood committees are being deputized to keep an eye on everything that happens at the street level. Party slogans will dot the landscape, as the people will be reminded of the importance—no, the necessity—of the Party in the life of the nation. Decisions are being put on hold, and Beijing will slowly turn itself into a 20-million-person armed camp; China will, for all intents and purposes, be closed.

A recent piece in China File is an excellent starting point for understanding the context and significance of the upcoming meetings. Titled China’s Communist Party Is about to Meet. Here’s What You Should Know, it asks four China watchers to offer their analysis of the upcoming meetings:

What has the Party accomplished since Xi took power in 2012? And how can the Party maintain its legitimacy amidst flagging economic growth, increased dissatisfaction among the disenfranchised—especially in Hong Kong and Xinjiang—a major diplomatic challenge in North Korea, and increasing hostility from U.S. President Donald Trump?

The first week of October may be dubbed “Golden Week,” but the rest of the month will definitely be red.

Image credit: National Day 1984, by Joann Pittman, via Flickr
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Joann Pittman

Joann Pittman

Joann Pittman is Vice President of Partnership and China Engagement and editor of ZGBriefs. Prior to joining ChinaSource, Joann spent 28 years working in China, as an English teacher, language student, program director, and cross-cultural trainer for organizations and businesses engaged in China. She has also taught Chinese at the University …View Full Bio

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