China's President Xi Jinping
China's President Xi Jinping (C) walks around the Monument to the People's Heroes on Tiananmen Square during a wreath-laying ceremony marking Martyrs' Day at Tiananmen Square in Beijing on September 30, 2019 Image Credit: AFP

Beijing: Chinese President Xi Jinping paid his respects to Chairman Mao Zedong's embalmed body on Monday in a rare gesture ahead of China's celebration of 70 years of Communist rule.

Xi and other top Chinese officials visited Mao's mausoleum - located in the heart of Beijing in Tiananmen Square - and bowed three times to the late leader's statue, reported official news agency Xinhua.

He also paid respects to the remains of Mao, whose embalmed body is kept in a glass display at the memorial hall.

The last time a Chinese leader bowed to the statue of the "Great Helmsman" was six years ago, when Xi commemorated Mao's 120th birthday.

The move to honour the founder of the People's Republic of China comes as the country readies itself for a day of tightly-choreographed festivities, including a massive military parade and the release of 70,000 doves.

The anniversary is meant to showcase China's extraordinary rise from the ravages of war and famine to a modern, powerful nation state whose economic and military muscle is viewed by many with increasing concern.

On Monday morning, Xi and other leaders of the Communist Party of China also attended a wreath-laying ceremony to honour national heroes on Tiananmen Square.

Pupils arrive at a wreath laying ceremony
Pupils arrive at a wreath laying ceremony at the Monument to the People's Heroes in Tiananmen Square, marking the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China, in Beijing, China September 30, 2019. Image Credit: Reuters

A choir of children in crisp white shirts and red scarves sang before Xi approached the Monument to the People's Heroes - a tall obelisk in the middle of the square - where baskets of flowers decorated with red banners were placed.

"A promising nation must have heroes, and a country with future prospects must have pioneers," said state-run CCTV in a broadcast of the ceremony, quoting Xi.

What we know about the upcoming celebrations

Monument to the People's Heroes in Tiananmen Square
Workers clean a red carpet before a wreath laying ceremony at the Monument to the People's Heroes in Tiananmen Square, marking the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China, in Beijing, China September 30, 2019. Image Credit: Reuters

Xi speech

President Xi Jinping, who is also the general secretary of the Communist Party, will open the celebration with a speech.

Xi is the country's most powerful leader since Mao Zedong, who founded the People's Republic of China on October 1, 1949, at the end of a civil war that drove nationalists out to Taiwan.

The current Chinese leader bowed three times in front of a statue of Mao at Tiananmen Square and paid respects to his embalmed remains on Monday, according to state media.

Xi is likely to address familiar themes during his speech, such as his vision of the "Chinese dream" of "rejuvenation" to restore the country's former glory.

Tanks, missiles and drones

The anniversary will be a chance for China to show the world its growing military might, with a phalanx of weapons and 15,000 soldiers parading across Tiananmen Square.

Tanks, bombers, a supersonic drone and a new intercontinental ballistic missile capable of reaching the United States are expected to be among nearly 600 pieces of military hardware and 160 aircraft on display.

Xi is expected to watch from the south entrance of the Forbidden City, the same spot where Mao proclaimed the founding of the PRC.

Doves and floats

Soldiers will not be the only ones marching on Tuesday.

Some 100,000 civilians will walk along the parade route, along with 70 floats highlighting the country's accomplishments.

A replica of a space rocket has been spotted sticking out from behind a wall around the parking lot of the Workers Stadium along with other floats.


civilians will walk along the parade route

Numeric symbols will feature prominently, with the organisers releasing 70,000 doves and 70,000 balloons.

In the evening, artists will take over Tiananmen for a performance that will be capped by a fireworks show.

Smog and accidents

There are some things that the image-conscious Communist Party can't control.

Authorities usually manage to clear Beijing's notoriously polluted sky by temporarily shutting down factories ahead of major events.

But thick, toxic smog has blanketed the city in recent days and the forecast for Tuesday looks grim.

Chinese media outlets were given instructions to avoid giving too much prominence to bad news stories ahead of the anniversary.

Restricted event

Most ordinary citizens hoping to catch a glimpse of the parade will likely have to settle for watching it on live television, as security will be tight.

The procession will also be shown in 70 movie theatres across the country.

Roads will be closed in a massive perimeter spanning several blocks around Tiananmen Square.

Authorities banned the flying of kites and homing pigeons ahead of the event.

Censors have tightened control of social media and severely disrupted virtual private networks (VPN) - software that enables people to circumvent the Great Firewall and access blocked sites such as Twitter and Facebook.

How the country came to be

The 70th anniversary of the People's Republic of China on Tuesday will mark a triumphal moment for the nation's ruling Communist Party, as it surpasses the defunct Soviet Union's 69-year existence and rivals US global dominance.

Founded in the early 1920s with Soviet support, the Chinese Communist Party initially collaborated with the Nationalist Party, but the two groups turned against each other. The Nationalists drove the Communist Red Army in a military retreat across China in 1934, with tens of thousands dying on the way. The Communists in turn mythologized their retreat as a revolutionary "Long March," building Mao Zedong's cult of personality as its tenacious leader and solidifying the Party's support base among rural peasants on the way.

A few years later, during the Sino-Japanese War, the Communists and the Nationalists formed a united front against Japanese forces. When that war ended in 1945, however, civil war resumed. In 1949, the Nationalists fled to Taiwan and the Communists and their allies founded the People's Republic of China with Mao as its leader.

In recognition of the anniversary, The Los Angeles Times interviewed people in China about their lives during key moments in the country's communist history. Here are some of their experiences.

People's Republic of China under Mao

The Early Years

1949-1960s: The theme of Mao's China was constant struggle and radical revolution to achieve a Communist utopia. It was a period when ideology overrode reality, resulting in mass deaths.

Yu Wenhe was born in 1947, making him two years older than the People's Republic of China. The son of a coal cart driver, he grew up in hardship.

"As a child, we just had buns and pickles all the time."

Yu's grandfather had been well off during the Qing Dynasty, which was overthrown in 1911. He was a bannerman attached to a noble Manchurian family that gave him three carriages he used to make a living. When the Japanese invaded in 1937, the family sold the carriages before they could be looted, but ended up bankrupt in the chaos. After the war, Yu's father rented carts to haul coal around Beijing.

In the first decade of the republic, China fought the Korean War; collectivized, or abolished private ownership; and launched an industrialization drive called the Great Leap Forward, which triggered famine - or as Yu calls it, "three years of natural disasters," using the official description of the crisis.

During this time, learning the abacus and calligraphy was compulsory for children. For Yu's family, the old wooden calculating machine became the key to prosperity.

He became an apprentice chef at Beijing International Hotel. He spent four years in the air force, where he was deployed in the administration office because of his skills on the abacus. His wife, Zhang Honglan, also benefited from her lightning-fast abacus skills, appointed in the accounting department of one of China's largest state-owned companies, Capital Steel. Their skills won them long-held, stable, predictable jobs, so their family fared well, even if their abode was humble. Zhang worked all her life in the company until retiring in 1998. After the air force Yu worked his whole life as a chef. Their joint pensions are the equivalent of $1,400 a month, twice what they need to survive.

An antique family abacus holds a revered place in the tiny one-room house Yu and Zhang share in the old alleys of Beijing.

Yu, 72, said only people who don't understand the Communist Party complain. The arc of history has led him from deprivation to plenty. One recent lunchtime he and his wife sat down to stir-fried chicken and green beans, fried chicken, braised beef, rice and stir-fried potatoes.

"In the past we had food rations and we couldn't afford much. There has been an amazing increase in the quality of the food and quantity of the food," he said.

The Great Leap Forward

1958-60: Mao's plan to transform China into an industrial country involved abolishing private land, drafting peasants into communes and centralizing most grain. People collected cooking pots, agricultural tools and scrap metal to melt down in local smelters, producing useless slag. The policies led to a collapse in agricultural output and mass starvation. As many as 45 million people died.

The Cultural Revolution

1966-76: At the height of Maoism, Chairman Mao's call for "constant struggle" became a tornado of radical violence that tore society apart and traumatized the population. It was Mao's 10-year drive to purge China of bourgeois tradition and the Communist Party of personal political rivals through radical, constant "class struggle."

When Mao died in 1976, 10 years after launching the Cultural Revolution, Li Shaomin could not cry.

Li then 19, was a propaganda artist for the People's Liberation Army, and he had 24 hours to paint a giant black-and-white portrait of Mao for his unit's memorial service.

"He was God. How could God die?" he said. His parents were Communist Party revolutionaries. His mother, who believed Mao's call in 1956 for intellectuals to criticize the Party, had spoken up - only to be sent to a labor camp in Gansu province.

His father, a young Marxism professor, divorced her to save his career. He was promoted to the Central Propaganda Department in Beijing.

Then came the Cultural Revolution. At the propaganda department, everyone threw their books into the courtyard and set them on fire, following Mao's directive to destroy the "poisonous weeds" of non-Maoist thought. Suspicion ravaged society. One by one, propaganda officials denounced one another as counter-revolutionaries. Li's neighbor killed himself with sleeping pills. Others committed suicide in other ways.

Youth militias called Red Guards roamed the country, smashing temples, museums and schools, and beating teachers, landowners and other authority figures. There were brutal daily public "struggle" sessions and mass killings.

Li's father was denounced and sent with his family to perform manual labor in rural Hebei province. Later, Li joined the army as an artist. He painted posters criticizing Confucius, imperialism, capitalism and whichever Party leaders suddenly fell into Mao's disfavor.

"It's a competition to see who loves Mao Zedong the most, and you keep killing and denouncing each other as anti-Mao," he said. "It was just crazy, because none of us were anti-Mao."

The People's Republic after Mao

Opening up, cracking down

The 1980s were China's decade of opening up. Deng Xiaoping, Mao's successor, introduced the idea of socialism with "Chinese characteristics," starting with economic reform in 1978.

By the late 1980s, a liberal current was electrifying China's youth. They demanded that China embrace democracy. That movement came to a brutal end in the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989, when Deng made the limits of liberalization clear: the Party was not to be challenged.

The guns had started firing in early June 1989, but Han Dongfang vowed he would not leave Tiananmen Square.

Han, a railway electrician, had organized workers to support months of student protests and helped set up China's first independent trade union. That June night, flashes of gunfire lighted the sky.

"Before that moment, I truly never believed the Chinese army would shoot on the students of Beijing," he said.

Han had been a soldier in the '70s and '80s. He joined the People's Liberation Army in 1979, inspired by the idea that a soldier and a general were equal under communism. He embraced the selfless sacrifice of a model soldier: dedication to the nation, the people and the Communist Party.

"Soon after I joined, I realized it's a lie."

After confronting the political commissar, he was blocked from promotions and joined the railway. He happened to pass Tiananmen Square with his wife, the first day of the student protests in 1989. He was transfixed by the students' words. The protests had begun in mid-April, and Han started giving his own speeches about workers' rights, and inspired workers to take part in the protest movement. He helped start the Beijing Workers' Autonomous Federation in April 1989, the first independent trade union.

Han was jailed for 22 months for his role in the protests, nearly died of pneumonia, and had to have lung surgery in the United States. Living in Hong Kong, he dedicated his life to Chinese workers' rights, trying to establish democratic unions and collective bargaining through an organization he founded in Hong Kong in 1994, China Labor Bulletin.

"Sometimes when I'm tired or frustrated, I remind myself to continue the battle because it's a moral obligation." he said.

The one-child policy

Alarmed about feeding China's vast population and other economic concerns, authorities had introduced the one-child policy in 1979, imposing forced abortions or punitive fines for those who defied the ban. Beginning in the 1980s, rural parents could have a second child, and as of 2016, all parents could have two.

In the abortion room, the mother and doctor stared at the still, silent infant girl. And then she moved.

Tami Xiang was not supposed to have been born. She was to have been forcibly aborted under China's one-child-policy.

A few weeks earlier her pregnant mother, Zhou Guangtao, had been hiding from abortion officials in a cave near her Hebei province village in winter 1984 when she lighted a fire to escape the bitter cold. Villagers saw the smoke. She was arrested for defying the one-child-policy with her scandalous fourth pregnancy.

She was taken to the family planning center, responsible for enforcing the one-child policy limiting families to a single child.

Zhou and her husband managed to bribe a relative who worked there. They paid for a doctor to induce a premature birth instead of using the toxic abortion injection.

At school, Xiang was scorned as the child of poor farmers because her illicit birth was not registered. To get registration papers, her parents paid two years of their salary in fines, while part of their land was confiscated.

Xiang made the most of the life she was never supposed to have. She has photographed China's poorest families, creating evocative portraits of the "left-behind" children of migrant workers raised by their grandparents, and of pensioners pictured with what little they could buy with a $12 pension. She is completing a Ph.D. in contemporary arts at the University of Western Australia in Perth.

Last year, she shared details of her history as a nearly aborted child on a social media group of more than 100 former classmates. They denounced her for showing the dark side of China.

"They only talk about the good side of China, not the dark side. But it's the reality," she said. "My mother was a very strong woman. All she wanted was to get this baby to come out alive."

Decades of Economic Boom

'The only hard truth'

"Development is the only hard truth," Deng Xiaoping famously said in 1992 on a tour of special economic zones in southern China, meant to revive business after the Tiananmen Square killings. After decades of famine, turmoil and a failed democracy movement, China turned to the pursuit of wealth, dropping strict communist economic policies in favor of more open markets.

By the early 2000s, Chinese growth rocketed into the double-digits. Standards of living rose, but so did inequality. In 2016, a Peking University report found that the top 1 per cent of households in China held one-third of the nation's wealth, while the bottom 25 per cent of households shared only 1%.

Despite issues such as human rights complaints and trade problems with the United States, a new generation of Chinese elite is confident in Communist China's future as a superpower.

David Li gasped when Jack Ma, billionaire founder of e-commerce giant Alibaba and idol of Chinese entrepreneurs nationwide, walked into the room.

Li, 33, was in a session at Hupan University, an exclusive academy founded by Ma for a few dozen Chinese entrepreneurs selected each year to learn from older Chinese tycoons and billionaires.

Li is co-founder of Hesai Technology, a Shanghai-based startup making laser sensors called lidar for self-driving cars. He was chosen from thousands of applicants to learn "unique things that Chinese entrepreneurs should learn, not necessarily from the Stanfords and Harvards of the world," but from Chinese businessmen, he said.

They spent three days at the old Communist Party base of Yanan, discussing best practices from Mao and Qin Shi Huang, the first emperor of a unified China, and how to apply them to corporate leadership.

Li studied at Beijing's Tsinghua University and got a robotics doctorate from the University of Illinois before founding Hesai in 2013 with two friends, Chinese Stanford grads he'd met at a party in Palo Alto, Calif.

They returned to China because it made business sense, Li said. There were more smart engineers available for hire at lower costs. It helped that China was investing heavily in high-tech industries, manufacturing was cheap in Shanghai, and Chinese venture capitalists were as rich as those in California, if not richer.

By 2019, his company had more than 700 employees, had raised more than $150 million in global investment, and boasted customers in 18 countries.