Tian'anmen Square, the symbolic political heart of socialist China, was turned into a sea of joy Tuesday as Chinese celebrated the spectacular rise over the past 70 years and vowed to march on toward national rejuvenation.
More than 200,000 people took part in the over two-and-a-half-hour celebrations in the morning for the 70th founding anniversary of the People's Republic of China (PRC) that featured marching soldiers, roaring jets, rumbling tanks, colorful floats, singing children and cheering crowds.
The sprawling Tian'anmen Square, decorated with large red lanterns, was filled with spectators waving national flags. Two huge signs showed the numbers: "1949" and "2019."
President Xi Jinping, also general secretary of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee and chairman of the Central Military Commission, took his place on Tian'anmen Rostrum as the first top Chinese leader born after 1949 to oversee celebrations for such a key anniversary.
Atop the newly furnished rostrum, Xi was joined by incumbent and retired senior leaders including Li Keqiang, Li Zhanshu, Wang Yang, Wang Huning, Zhao Leji, Han Zheng, Wang Qishan, Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao.
On the front of the rostrum was a giant portrait of late leader Mao Zedong, who announced the birth of the PRC on Oct. 1, 1949.
While delivering a speech, Xi said that the founding of the PRC completely reversed China's miserable fate born from poverty and weakness and being bullied and humiliated over more than 100 years since the advent of modern times.
He said over the past seven decades the Chinese people have made great achievements that amazed the world.
The country that once had to import matches and kerosene became the world's largest manufacturer. It ditched the "poor and blank" label with the economy having grown into the second-largest in the world and is moving closer to the center stage.
It was a journey that took developed countries several hundred years to complete.
Xi said today is a moment all Chinese should take pride in.
"No force can ever undermine China's status, or stop the Chinese people and nation from marching forward," Xi said.
PARADE OF NEW ERA
Celebrations began at 10 a.m. with a 70-gun salute and the raising of the national flag.
After delivering his speech, Xi began to review the troops from a black open-roof Red Flag limousine.
In front of a trio of flags of the Party, the nation and the People's Liberation Army (PLA), the limo paused and Xi watched the flags with full attention as a salute.
Chang'an Avenue was lined with 15 foot formations and 32 armament formations, involving about 15,000 military personnel.
Xi repeated salutes through the microphone: "Salute to you, comrades!" "Comrades, thank you for your hard work!"
The soldiers replied: "Hail to you, Chairman!" "Serve the people!"
"Follow the Party! Fight to win! Forge exemplary conduct!" they exclaimed.
A total of 580 sets of armaments, all made in China, were put on display. About 40 percent were paraded for the first time.
The crowds cheered as Dongfeng-41 intercontinental strategic nuclear missiles, Dongfeng-17 conventional missiles and high-altitude high-speed reconnaissance drones passed through the square.
Shen Jilan, 90, has observed many Tian'anmen Square parades since the 1950s.
"In 1954, there was a cavalry formation trotting on the square. Such huge changes these past 70 years! I'm proud, very proud," said Shen, a farmer and longtime lawmaker who received the Medal of the Republic two days ago in Beijing.
Tuesday's parade marked the first collective public appearance of the Chinese armed forces after a massive reform led by Xi over recent years.
Military experts said the PLA is taking a "crucial leap" in the new era from being simply large to being strong.
The armed forces, they said, are transforming into world-class forces that obey the Party's command, can fight and win, and maintain excellent conduct.
FLOATS OF PROUD PROGRESS
A chorus of children wearing white shirts and iconic Young Pioneer red scarves sang the song "Today Is Your Birthday, China" heralding a colorful and massive civilian parade.
A total of 100,000 people and 70 floats in 36 formations joined the mass pageantry themed "Jointly Fulfilling the Chinese Dream."
Cheers and loud applause broke out in the crowd when huge portraits of Mao Zedong, Deng Xiaoping, Jiang Zemin, Hu Jintao and Xi Jinping passed through the square.
"Socialism with Chinese characteristics has entered a new era. The Chinese nation has made a great leap from standing up to growing rich and to becoming strong," an official narrator said when Xi's portrait appeared.
The civilian parade took the audience through key moments of the socialist country over the 70 years: its founding and early years of construction, the start of reform and opening-up, the return of Hong Kong and Macao, the 2008 Olympic Games and the entry into a new era for national rejuvenation.
Workers, farmers, entrepreneurs, actors, musicians, sports stars and other celebrities were among the people who paraded through the square in a carnival fashion.
Lei Jun, founder and CEO of Chinese smartphone maker Xiaomi, wrote in a Weibo social media post that he felt very honored to join. "I am a witness of the tech sector's rapid development," he said. "We, the private entrepreneurs, have grown with the motherland and will keep striving."
The celebrations ended with some 70,000 doves and 70,000 balloons being released to the sky, and participants singing in chorus "Ode to the Motherland."
Many Chinese were moved by the festive atmosphere and the remarkable achievements the country has made.
"Awed, proud and grateful! That is what I feel at the moment," said Liu Minghui, an undergraduate student at Tsinghua University who took part in the mass pageantry. "I just want to tell the motherland: Happy birthday!"
Fu Wentao, a pilot of the deep-sea manned submersible Jiaolong, said he was proud to contribute to the country's rise.
"I'm so proud that China has grown rich and is getting stronger," Fu said.
Yang Ziyun, a Beijing TV station employee, said all of her family had taken part in the Tian'anmen Square anniversary celebrations at different times.
"The experience is so special that you feel like singing every time you pass this square," Yang said.
Tuesday's celebrations brought to a climax a series of events marking the 70th founding anniversary of the PRC. To many, it is also a time to reflect on the secret behind the country's success.
Yang Yong, a parader with the Olympic-themed formation, gave the credit to the country's socialist system.
"Our country is getting stronger, and our life keeps getting better and better," Yang said.
Upon receiving the Friendship Medal of the PRC in Beijing on Sunday, Thai Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn said China now stands proud as a "shining beacon" of achievements and reform of social progress and modernization.
Xi on Tuesday stressed the importance of upholding the Party leadership, ensuring the principal status of the people and staying on the path of socialism with Chinese characteristics.
"China's yesterday has been inscribed in human history while China's today is being created in the hands of hundreds of millions of Chinese people," Xi said. "China will surely have an even brighter future."