On Oct. 1, 1949, a silent but excited crowd of half a million people assembled to watch Mao Zedong announce the birth of the People's Republic of China. Suddenly, a yellow dog bolted along the parade route on Changan Avenue. "Look! It's Chiang Kai-shek," shouted onlookers, referring to Mao's defeated rival, who'd fled with his army to Taiwan. "He's running away!" The crowd hooted and whistled, recalls eyewitness Li Sha, whose late husband was a senior party leader. "It was totally unexpected."
For months now, Beijing authorities have been cracking down to stifle such surprises during China's 50th National Day anniversary this week. They have dispatched at least 100,000 rural migrants back to the provinces and shut down 6,000 saunas and beauty salons offering "illegal erotic services." Around the country, police are rounding up anyone, from mentally ill beggars to an 81-year-old Roman Catholic bishop, whose voice might dampen the party spirit. In Guangzhou, city workers are impounding illegally parked motorcycles in trucks festooned with colorful banners. On the streets of Beijing, animal-control commissars roam at dusk, fining dog owners without papers for their pets, and sometimes beating unregistered dogs to death on the spot. "Of course the government is cracking down and trying to make things perfect," says Chinese rock-music pioneer Cui Jian. "If it didn't, now that would be unusual."
This is President Jiang Zemin's party, and he's determined to establish himself as a worthy successor to Mao and Deng Xiaoping. From Shanghai to Shenzen, shady parks and marble plazas have materialized where shantytowns once sprawled. Workers rushed to complete nearly 100 major construction projects, including the new Beijing airport terminal, in time for the festivities. No detail is too small for the capital cleanup crews--or too large. Nearly two dozen smoke-belching factories have been shut since Sept. 21 to help clear the air of pollution on Oct. 1. For months a high-ranking National Day Weather Services Leadership Group has been using chemicals and rockets to dissipate the clouds over Beijing. And all wireless phone and pager systems will be shut down on Oct. 1 so they can't interfere with the radio communications of security personnel involved in the festivities.
The Changan Avenue parade route is already festooned with half a million flowerpots and 150,000 square meters of newly planted turf. To minimize traffic disruption, the military held its first dress rehearsal after twilight, spooking some residents who can remember the last time tanks rolled toward Tiananmen Square. "It reminded me of 1989," says painter Wang Jinsong, 36. "Suddenly I was scared and felt like running away." Elsewhere, citizens crowded around a line of tanks idling on a side street and bantered with the soldiers. Do the tanks have pollution controls? How about air conditioning?
Last week, Beijing held a full-blown, daytime dress rehearsal. The tanks rolled out onto Changan, followed by armored personnel carriers, thousands of marchers, nearly 100 floats and a brilliant fireworks grand finale. The next day screaming formations of MiG fighter planes and helicopters roared past the Forbidden City. On National Day itself, the People's Liberation Army is expected to unveil a new Flying Leopard fighter bomber and two new missiles, including an ICBM capable of nuking Los Angeles. The intense security will include rooftop snipers and bomb-sniffing dogs.
As National Day approached, many Chinese felt genuine pride at the potent symbol of national survival. "I'm happy to see China become a strong nation," says Li Sha. "It's a natural emotion for us, after seeing the entire 50 years of history from the darkest depths to now." But the sheer scale of festivities has triggered some private grumbling. The city Complaints Department received a flood of letters suggesting that some of the $14 billion already spent on the "National Day infrastructure projects" might be better spent on the growing population of unemployed workers. So the propaganda boss instructed local media to call these projects "good deeds by the government for the people" instead of anniversary gifts.
The regime wants no sour faces at the parade. Beijing has hiked government salaries and the number of holidays, and urged editors to stifle bad news. It has advised the media that National Day is a time to celebrate the "vigorous developments" of Mao's era, particularly the 1964 explosion of China's first atomic bomb. The press gives equal time to Mao and the reformer who tried to correct his many excesses, Deng Xiaoping. Independent thinkers are going underground. Badgered by authorities to outline his upcoming performances, the owner of a popular alternative-music bar in Beijing first went to soft pop, then shut off his neon entrance sign, then closed his doors completely. "It's just too sensitive," he says, asking to remain anonymous. "I'm planning to reopen Oct. 10 when this is all over."
The hangover may last longer. A Beijing construction boss complains that the deportation of migrant workers has cost him 80 percent of his labor force, and he wonders "when--if ever--they'll come back." Yet the cleanup is widely popular, and much of Beijing is glad to see the migrants go--along with the massage parlors, the smog and the grime. Indeed the 50th anniversary has become "the catalyst for addressing a lot of issues, from infrastructure to traffic control," says Laurence Brahm, head of the Naga consulting firm in Beijing. The way many Beijing residents see it, let the party begin, but let the cleanup never end.