BEIJING on Monday celebrated the 69th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China with pomp and pageantry, while across the border in Hong Kong, protests challenging the shrinking political arena took centre stage.
A day before the official celebration and flag-raising, President Xi Jinping paid tribute to national heroes at the Monument to the People’s Heroes in Tiananmen Square in the capital.
Xi, China’s most powerful leader since the nation’s founder, inspected members of the two million-strong People’s Liberation Army (PLA).
During his visit, he stressed the importance of military strength and war preparedness, highlighting the efforts being made to improve the PLA’s capability to win wars, state-run Xinhua news agency reported.
On Monday, the guard of honour from the PLA escorted China’s national flag to the flag tower in Tiananmen Square; the same place Chairman Mao Zedong declared the establishment of the People’s Republic on the same day in 1949. The military band played the national anthem.
More than 140,000 people gathered in the square to mark the special occasion. It’s reported some visitors were camped out as early as 8pm the night before to ensure themselves the best spot for photographs.
Spectators were also treated to the giant ornamental flower displays that dotted the city, soaring over 20m above their heads.
Across the country, locals marked the day with their own unique takes on the celebration.
Farmers in Linying country, in central Henan province, made a huge national flag out of chilli peppers, corn, and soybean to show their patriotism.
Corns and dates were more the style of one couple in East China’s Shandong province, who also crafted the flag to show their support.
Monday marked the beginning of a week-long holiday for the Chinese, known as ‘Golden Week.’
The country shuts down for the national break, prompting the second biggest human mass migration in the country as holidaymakers hit the road.
On Monday alone, about 122 million people travelled domestically on the first day of the holiday.
According to the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, that’s a 7.5 percent rise from last year.
Xinhua reports, domestic tourism revenue generated on Monday reached 103 billion yuan (US$15 billion), up 7.2 percent from 2017.
While Beijing celebrated, very different scenes were unfolding across the border in Hong Kong.
Thousands of protestors took to the streets to voice concern on a whole range of issues, from social welfare to democratic rights.
Anti-mainland government protestors have become a fixture of the national day for the last few years.
A major bone of contention for protestors was the government’s decision to ban the pro-independence Hong Kong National Party, citing national security concerns. For many, this highlighted the creeping influence of Beijing in Hong Kong affairs and the shrinking arena for free speech and political dissent.
Hong Kong was handed back to China by the British in 1997. Under the terms of the handover, semi-autonomous Hong Kong is meant to enjoy freedoms unseen on the mainland, including freedom of expression, association, and elections.
Chanting “Hong Kong is not China”, pro-democracy protesters called for Hong Kong’s independence as they marched on government headquarters.
Despite the unrest, Hong Kong marked the occasion with a spectacular 23-minute fireworks display over Victoria Harbour.