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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Celebration Stresses Military Might

BEIJING -- Cannons roared, fighter jets screamed and crisp-uniformed soldiers with flashy weaponry paraded through Tiananmen Square to the cheers of Chinese leaders and children as China celebrated 50 years of Communist rule Friday.

President Jiang Zemin and other Communist Party leaders viewed the lavish parade of a half-million soldiers and civilians from atop the Gate of Heavenly Peace. An honor guard of 200 men bearing bayonet rifles goose-stepped up a red carpet leading toward the gate as 50 cannons thundered in salute.

The party's 300-million-yuan ($36 million) celebration showcases the nation's growing military might and its rapid economic progress since Mao Zedong stood atop the Gate of Heavenly Peace on Oct. 1, 1949, and declared the founding of the People's Republic.

"Arduous struggle and strenuous efforts of 50 years, particularly the past 20 years since reform and opening-up, have brought about earthshaking changes to the erstwhile poor and weak old China," Jiang said in a brief speech studded with references to the past and hopes for the future.

"Long live the great People's Republic! Long live the great Chinese Communist Party! Long live the great Chinese people!" Jiang said.

Wearing a charcoal gray Mao suit, Jiang stood in the open roof of a boxy black Red Flag limousine to review the assembled military units - just as his mentor and patriarch of China's reforms, Deng Xiaoping, did 15 years before.

"Comrades, you're working hard!" Jiang, who heads the party commission that oversees the military, shouted repeatedly through three microphones mounted atop the car.

"Serve the people!" the troops, outfitted in brand-new uniforms, roared back as they saluted.

Jets streaked through the air, trailing red, blue and gold smoke, as the Chinese military's newest tanks, the T-90, and trucks bearing the newest missiles, the Dongfeng 31 long-range missile, rumbled past Tiananmen Square.

The vast square in the heart of Beijing was a sea of color. Thousands of children holding red and gold fans spelled out the characters Guoqing, or National Day. Patriotic floats representing all of China's provinces, children waving bright-hued scarves and lion and dragon dancers followed the procession of soldiers, tanks and missiles.

A martial-law style cordon kept ordinary citizens away from the festivities, although they were able to see evening firework displays elsewhere in the city.On Tiananmen Square, tens of thousands of carefully selected invitees, some wearing space-age silver costumes, took part in an evening gala, with mass dances, patriotic songs, such as "Love my China," and thundering fireworks. Jiang changed into a Western suit to watch the show.

Jiang and other leaders, inheritors of Mao's legacy, hope the national pride generated for the anniversary will redound to the Communist Party, whose public image has been tarnished by pervasive official corruption and complaints about unemployment and falling incomes.

"The Chinese people have never held their heads so high and drawn so much attention from all over the world as are today," the party's flagship newspaper, People's Daily, said in an editorial.

The celebrations highlight the progress made in five decades under Communism - the first three scarred by political turmoil, the last two devoted to whirlwind economic growth.

In 1949, the average Chinese life expectancy was 35 years. Today, it's 71. Then, two-thirds of all Chinese were illiterate; now, 12 percent cannot read. Then, many Chinese starved. Today, for most there is plenty.

"Today, we can buy anything we need or want. Look at the clothes we are wearing - they're pretty good and they're not even our best," Peng Junzhou, a retired doctor, said.