For most ordinary citizens in the People’s Republic of China, the only way to see the military parade marking 70 years of Communist Party rule was on television or their smartphones.
Authorities would not allow just anyone to get near the parade route, with large swathes of central Beijing on lockdown so troops, tanks and missiles could file past Tiananmen Square.
Security staff near the city’s military museum turned away children carrying Chinese flags and elderly women who had hoped to catch a glimpse of the parade.
Authorities also edged back crowds gathering near Chang’an Avenue — the east-west artery used for the parade. Many had stuck small red flags that said “I love China” on their cheeks.
Even access to screenings of the festivities at select movie theatres was restricted.
Chu Zuoyuan, a 33-year-old from southwestern Sichuan province, told AFP he had planned to watch the parade from a movie theatre — one of 70 chosen to Livestream Tuesday’s celebrations.
The experience would cap off a trip tracing “revolutionary” sites in China, from Tiananmen Square to Linyi, a city in east China where the Communist Party triumphed over the Nationalists during the civil war, said Chu.
“I hope today will leave me with beautiful and deep memories,” he exclaimed while waiting for the show to start.
But in the end, the Chengdu native was barred from the screening, which admitted residents pre-selected by local officials and community leaders.
At the end of the parade, many were finally able to see tanks and other equipment rolls across city streets as they headed back to their bases, with security guards keeping people at a safe distance.
Though locals in Beijing strained to catch sight of the parade in person, the Chinese government made sure to widely disseminate broadcasts and ramp up publicity for the 70th anniversary.
Ahead of Tuesday’s festivities, more than 620,000 households in poor areas in China received donated TV sets with access to shows, reported official news agency Xinhua.
Cities around the country had also thrown up red propaganda banners in honour of the 70th anniversary, some bearing slogans like “striving towards a new era” or “happiness comes from struggle”.
Tuesday’s celebrations featured some 15,000 troops along with tanks and a supersonic drone — a display of military prowess meant to highlight China’s extraordinary rise from the ravages of war to a modern, powerful nation.
Xi, who wore the distinctive “Mao suit”, delivered a speech invoking the “Chinese dream” of national rejuvenation, his grand vision of restoring the country to perceived past glory.
But a new day of violent protests in semi-autonomous Hong Kong threatened to upstage Beijing’s party.
Pro-democracy protesters in the financial hub organised defiant “Day of Grief” rallies as nearly four-months of unrest continue in Hong Kong.
Chinese people outside the country should watch the parade, commented Wang, a 60-year-old man who only gave his surname.
“It doesn’t matter if we watch it,” he told AFP. “But people outside China should definitely watch.”
A lot of them “simply do not understand” people on the mainland, he added.
Other locals, like Fang Changping, told AFP they had no plans to watch the live broadcast.
“I’ve seen too many of them, and I can see right through them,” said the 80-year-old tai-chi practitioner.
He was part of a National Day parade back in 1956, Fang explained, and in comparison, today’s celebration feels “less authentic”.