Haiwang YUAN

Grand Parade celebrating the 50th anniversary of the People’s Republic of China on 1 October 1999. On of the 50 floats included China’s signature Panda with a bouquet and rainbow symbolizing ultimate beauty and endurance. Parade enters Tiananmen Square and the Museum of History and the Revolution is in the background. PHOTO BY JOAN LEBOLD COHEN.

After the Communist Party of China defeated the Nationalists in the Chinese Civil War (1945–1949), 1 October became National Day, in lieu of 10 October, the traditional anniversary of the overthrow of the last Qing emperor. (Taiwan still celebrates 10 October.) Celebrations of the new National Day on the mainland have gone through various forms in accordance with different political, economic, and social changes.

The Chinese on the mainland celebrate their National Day on 1 October while those on the island of Taiwan celebrate the day the Republic of China replaced the Qing Dynasty, 10 October 1911 (the emperor did not abdicate, however, until February 1912). The day the Japanese surrendered to the Chinese, 3 September 1945, brought to an end the anti-Japanese alliance between the Communists led by Mao Zedong and the Nationalists led by Chiang Kai-shek; the two factions immediately turned against each other again. After the fall of Nanjing, the seat of the Nationalist government, on 23 April 1949, Chiang Kai-shek and his army retreated to Taiwan. On 1 October 1949, Mao Zedong proclaimed the founding of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) on the rostrum of Tiananmen Square in Beijing, in front of 300,000 people gathered there.

On 2 December 1949, the Central People’s Government of the PRC passed a resolution to set aside 1 October as Guoqingjie (National Celebration Day), or National Day, in English. Most Chinese customarily call it Guoqing (National Celebration) or simply Shiyi (October First). Since the return of Hong Kong (1997) and Macao (1999) to the Chinese sovereignty, National Day has also been celebrated in those territories.

From 1950 to 1959, National Day was routinely celebrated with a military parade in Tiananmen Square. The parade was discontinued in 1960 when the central government enforced stringent economic policies to combat widespread famine. Mass assemblies and processions took over in the 1960s. Starting from the early 1970s, organized and voluntary parties took place in parks throughout the country as a major form of National Day celebrations. From 1985 to 1999, organized activities gave way to individual choices. To boost the economy by encouraging tourism, the government created three controversial “Gold Weeks” in 1999 out of the festivals of Labor Day, National Day, and the Chinese New Year, making each a week-long holiday. An increasing number of Chinese people chose to spend the holiday touring the country and the world (first Southeast Asia and later Europe). In December 2007 National Day, along with Labor Day, was reestablished as a one-day holiday.

An unwritten rule regulates the observance of National Day. Every tenth anniversary, there should a grand celebration and every fifth, a lesser one. Inconsistently following this rule, two military parades took place, one on the thirty-eighth anniversary in 1984 and the other on the fiftieth in 1999.

A national reception in the Great Hall of the People, as a token of thanks to foreigners working in China along with Chinese dignitaries, has become part of the National Day tradition. A top national leader customarily presides over the ceremony. Chinese embassies also hold receptions for overseas Chinese and dignitaries of hosting countries. Usually a fireworks display is held in cities nationwide. The one in Hong Kong at the Victoria Harbor is an exceptional spectacle, favored by residents as well as tourists.

Plans for a grand celebration of the sixtieth anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China on 1 October 2009 were muted by the global economic crisis that began in the autumn of 2008. A newspaper report in January 2009 claimed that the traditional military parades would “showcase strength and transparency” and would be a “‘warm but frugal and cost-effective’ show of the most sophisticated current weapon systems.”

Further Reading

Fuller, L. K. (2004). National days/national ways: historical, political, and religious celebrations around the world. Westport CT: Praeger Publishers.

China. (1950). Zhong yang ren min zheng fu wei yuan hui di si ci hui yi bao gao he jue yi. Xin hua shi shi cong kan. Shanghai: Xin hua shu dian.

Macmillan Library Reference USA. (1999). Festivals and holidays. Macmillan profiles. New York: Macmillan Library Reference USA.

Source: Yuan, Haiwang. (2009). National Day. In Linsun Cheng, et al. (Eds.), Berkshire Encyclopedia of China, pp. 1556–1557. Great Barrington, MA: Berkshire Publishing.

National Day (Guóqìngjié ???)|Guóqìngjié ??? (National Day)

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