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China Celebrates 70 Years Of Communist Rule With Military Parade

Oct 1, 2019
Originally published on October 1, 2019 10:46 am
Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

What's it like to be in China as it marks 70 years of communist rule? In Tiananmen Square, facing the famed red outside wall of Beijing's Forbidden City, tanks and missiles rolled past in a military parade today.

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INSKEEP: This was one of many ways that China's government celebrated the republic that was proclaimed after communists won power in 1949. Well outside Beijing, in Hong Kong, pro-democracy protesters marked this anniversary with demonstrations. All Things Considered host Ailsa Chang is in Beijing today. She's been reporting for several days inside China. Hi there, Ailsa.

AILSA CHANG, BYLINE: Hey, Steve.

INSKEEP: What have you seen today?

CHANG: Well, we've been spending most of the day walking around central Beijing. We were within a mile of Tiananmen Square, where the festivities were happening. Even though we were credentialed by the Chinese government to cover the event, most foreign media were not allowed at the actual site of the celebration. In fact, we were told by police officers today that our credentials didn't even allow us to interview anyone on the street or take any pictures while walking around the city.

And I want to say, it is worth noting that that lack of access to these huge celebrations went for most of the people in central Beijing. I mean, there were barricades, police everywhere keeping crowds at bay. And what we saw were people just sitting around in beach chairs all over the sidewalk as if they were waiting for festivities to pass on by, but they were all actually just watching the celebration huddled around these tiny screens on their iPhones, participating but also in a way totally shut out at the same time.

INSKEEP: All of those rules would imply some tension on the part of the government, some anxiety on the part of the government, that nothing would disrupt this anniversary. Nevertheless, it was the anniversary that brought you to China. You've been able to move around a bit more freely on other days. And what are you trying to learn?

CHANG: What I wanted to take a look at on this trip were, what promises did the Chinese Communist Party make 70 years ago and what promises have they made good on, basically? Because, you know, in a lot of ways the CCP is a party of contradictions. It was once the party of revolution; it's now become the establishment here.

INSKEEP: Yeah.

CHANG: It's communist in name, but it is not the party of the proletariat; it's the party of state capitalism. And it's a party that promised to lift people out of poverty, which, you know, to be - truth be told, it has done a spectacular job of. In fact, it's lifted hundreds of millions of people out of poverty. But at the same time, income inequalities have intensified over the last few decades, and part of our reporting here has been trying to understand how those inequalities have played out over different generations within different classes of people.

INSKEEP: Who have you been able to talk with?

CHANG: Well, we spent some time with migrant workers who had moved to Beijing 30 years ago from the countryside. And these are guys who work seven days a week, 10 hours a day, and yet they still say their lives are hundreds, even thousands, of times better than their parents' lives. Those are their exact words.

And that gets to one of the party's central promises, which is if you work hard and you trust us, we will make your life better. And we found that that message actually resonates with people from totally different backgrounds here. Like, here's an architect who lives in Beijing. Her name is Grace Jin. She's 28.

GRACE JIN: So I don't care who is the leader in China.

CHANG: Do you really not care, or you just know you can't choose anyway?

JIN: Maybe both. But just in China maybe we know the leader would make steady, wise choice, unlike (laughter) the United States.

CHANG: Unlike the United States. So what she's saying is, you know, in the end all she wants is stability to focus on her career, on success, and she says that is exactly what the Chinese government is giving her.

INSKEEP: Of course, in Hong Kong, there are people who don't want that arrangement, who want more freedom to choose their own leaders and who have been protesting yet again today. What is China's leadership saying about Hong Kong on this particular day of celebration and protest?

CHANG: Yeah. Well, President Xi Jinping today mentioned Hong Kong specifically. He reiterated that Hong Kong will always be a part of China. It's one country, two systems. And he vowed that China will always maintain stability in Hong Kong. He said, specifically, no force can shake the status of our great motherland. No force can obstruct the advance of the Chinese people and Chinese nation.

INSKEEP: Ailsa, thanks very much for your impressions, really appreciate it.

CHANG: You're welcome.

INSKEEP: NPR's Ailsa Chang of All Things Considered, where we will be hearing much more of her reporting. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.