Sheng ri kuai le!*

An estimated 3m people are right now heading to Beijing to celebrate the 60th birthday of the People’s Republic on 1st October. In contrast, Mr B and I are heading west to visit my homeland. It will be the first time in a year and a half I’ve been home and I can’t wait but we’re also aware we’ll be missing a historical milestone in our new home city.

The military hardware has practiced and re-practiced its routines and driven around the streets in the process (one of the more bizarre things Mr B and I have seen since arriving); the pensioner volunteers are out en masse, mostly gossiping with each other and occasionally giving directions but no doubt ready to spring into action should crisis present itself; the imposing black humvees with machine-gun toting swat cops have positioned themselves at major junctions in plain sight; flower arrangements along the parade route have been inspected by flashlight at midnight (another of the bizarre scenes we witnessed two Fridays ago); colourful banners and red lanterns have been dusted off;  subway line no 4 has opened right on schedule and uplifting celebratory posters have appeared everywhere.

There is no denying that the authorities are taking preparations very seriously when so much national pride is at stake. Last week, there were rumours abound on the internet that syringe attacks were planned on the city’s subway system. Explosions in two city restaurants last week were not reported in most of the city’s media.

To add to the building seige mentality, experienced expats are hoarding cash and food, knowing that nothing is going to get restocked over the next week, while expats living in the diplomatic compounds closest to the parade route are hunkering down for what amounts to a 24hr lock in.

Speaking today at the American Chamber of Commerce, veteran China watcher Sidney Rittenberg posed the ultimate question ahead of the 60th anniversary: when all other major civilisations (the Egyptians, Persians, Greeks, Romans, Maya, and those on the ancient Indian subcontinent) have come and gone, what have the Chinese done differently that has made their culture and language survive and thrive for 5,000 years?

Answers on a postcard please.

*happy birthday!

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