Quan Xiaoshu, Liu Qi (China Features)
At 6 a.m., Ji Yulin’s daughter looks out of the window. It’s raining and she’s delighted – Perhaps her drills for the National Day parade will be cancelled today?
To her disappointment, the notice never comes.
Ji Yulin, who is reluctant to reveal his daughter’s name, takes her to the Beijing No.2 Middle School as usual and carries on to the school’s sub-campus, a 10-minute walk away, where he works as an instructor, to drill his own students.
They are training for the grand parade to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China on Oct. 1. And this year’s anniversary is an occasion for a rare display of national strength and pride after 30 years of reform and opening up.
Ji, 44, who has taken part in the National Day parades for the nation’s 35th and 50th anniversaries, will march with his students along Chang’an Avenue, the main east-west thoroughfare in Beijing, and pass Tian'anmen Rostrum, from where Chairman Mao Zedong declared the founding of the New China.
A special preparatory committee for the parade was set up in March and worked out a plan to include students from dozens of Beijing colleges, primary and middle schools in the celebration.
Yang Zhihui, deputy director-general of the Haidian branch preparatory committee, considered the parade a once-in-a-life-time experience for the students who represent the future of the country to be a part.
But those too young to have experienced or appreciated previous National Day parades could hardly get it.
Zhang Tianyi, an undergraduate student at Beijing Foreign Studies University, says he would love to watch the National Day parade, but a notice from the school requiring him to participate in the parade had screwed up all his summer plans, which had included an internship, a tour to southern city Shenzhen and a hometown visit.
Di Tao, an official with the Beijing Municipal Commission of Education, clarifies that students will get their tickets fully refunded if their travel plans for summer vacation are disrupted by the drills.
“I don’t think it’s bad to see students have different ideas about the parade. They should be allowed to choose whether or not to participate,” said Yang Yiyin, director of the social psychology research office with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS).
Heavy rain forces the school to shift the drilling from the playground to classrooms.
“Today we’ll practice standing, as we have to stand for a long time on the National Day and it’s not easy without practice,” Ji explains to the students.
They also practice waving flowers and flipping cards in measured movements.
In total, 900 students from Ji’s school will participate in the parade. They will hold a bunch of plastic flowers at Tian'anmen Square on Oct. 1, to fit into a huge jigsaw board featuring “National Day” and “Long live China” in Chinese.
As in previous parades, the country’s leadership will inspect from the Tian’anmen Rostrum opposite the square parade phalanxes composed of students, army, and civilians from all walks of life.
Like many of his students, Ji’s daughter seems untouched by the event, in sharp contrast to the excitement he felt for the previous two parades.
When the school first mobilized the students in February for the parade, Ji’s daughter was not willing. “The drills are demanding and may squeeze away my study time,” she said.
Both her parents and teachers tried to motivate her. “It will be a rare, memorable and worthwhile experience, something you will feel only when you are there,” encouraged Ji’s wife.
The daughter finally agreed and the drills started in July. “We train from 7 to 10:30 each morning, with no weekends, except a two-week break during the summer vacation,” Ji said, adding that “running and leg lifting are the daily routine to improve students’ physical fitness.”
Though Ji’s daughter rarely complains, he can feel the zeal that he had in 1984 was clearly missing. Then a 19-year-old high school graduate, he and his classmates regarded it a great honor to be part of the National Day parade.
Teachers had to persuade students in poor health to withdraw from the parade, he recalls.
The parade in 1984 to mark the 35th anniversary of New China, the first in 24 years, was deemed a significant display of national strength and progress. From 1949 to 1959, parades were held annually on Oct. 1. Since 1984, only the 50th anniversary of the People’s Republic was celebrated with a parade in 1999.
“We assembled at 5 a.m. and got to Nanchizi Street, a 15-minute walk from Tian’anmen Square, at 6 a.m., where we waited until noon to walk to Chang’an Avenue,” Ji recalls his first parade.
Many of the balloons expected for flying when they walked past Tian’anmen Square had escaped away during the wait, he says.
Ji and his classmates returned to school after midnight, in high spirit.
“There was no bus. Cars and even bicycles were still luxuries to ordinary families. Many students living far from school slept in the classroom that night. We were all very excited,” he says.
Li Chunling, deputy director of the juveniles and social issues research office with CASS, attributed such passion to common values and an interest in politics.
“But this only-child generation, including Ji’s daughter, has more diversified values due to the more open and informative environment. They also face fiercer competition in terms of school exams and jobs, making them more pragmatic,” Li says.
Dong Zhenggang, a postgraduate student at Tsinghua University, sun-tanned from the drills, says students’ views should be taken into consideration when National Day celebrations are planned, to encourage more enthusiasm and make the celebrations more lively and diverse.
“There are many more ways to show our love for this country,” Dong notes.
Tan Jing, a graduate from Peking University, suggests the government also recruit students from outside Beijing to join the parade.
Peng Liangfang from Dongcheng District education commission in Beijing, says it’s normal that the students have different perceptions of the parade than their parents’ generation, as they are influenced by multiple cultures and tend to express their ideas openly.
But she insists that drills for the parade are a good test of their will and health if they can carry through the arduous discipline. They’ve buried themselves too much in online games or after-class tutoring.
“Give them some time, and they will find out the meaning some day,” Peng says.
Maybe Ji Yulin’s daughter will see it differently some day. But for now she already misses her piano untouched this summer.