BEIJING — China’s ruling Communist Party kicked off a tightly choreographed ceremony celebrating its 100th anniversary on Thursday with a 100-gun salute as thousands of performers assembled on Tiananmen Square.
“For 100 years, the Chinese Communist Party has led in the Chinese people in every struggle, every sacrifice, every innovation,” the country’s top leader, Xi Jinping, said in a speech from a deck on the Gate of Heavenly Peace. “In sum, around one theme — achieving the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.”
In a rousing opening, the performers chanted slogans celebrating the party’s leadership as Mr. Xi and other leaders watched.
“Listen to the party, be grateful to the party, and follow the party,” they shouted. “Let the party rest assured, I’m with the strong country!”
The streams of Communist Party youth groups in color-coordinated uniforms had filed onto the square from all directions at the beginning of the ceremony as dawn rose.
They mostly wore polo shirts in lime green, pale orange or bright red. Most wore black or white pants, but some of the young women were in matching poodle skirts that would not have looked out of place in the 1950s. A military brass band in dress blues filed into the back of the Great Hall of the People.
Thursday’s festivities did not include a military parade like the one in 2019 that celebrated the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China, but the military still provided a backdrop. Squadrons of helicopters flew over, carrying red banners and forming the figure 100, followed by fighter jets, including the country’s most advanced fighter jet, the J-20.
A few police officers stood on sidewalks in the downtown area around the square, which was closed to traffic. But the security was mostly unobtrusive, with numerous surveillance cameras perched like overweight pigeons on almost every pole.
Coronavirus precautions were understated for an outdoor event drawing many thousands of people to Tiananmen Square. The folding yellow and orange chairs in the main area of the square were not quite socially distanced, but still separated: 15 inches in between each chair.
The seated crowd extended only about three-quarters of the distance from the Forbidden City’s entrance gate, with Mao’s portrait back to the monolith in the heart of the square. But for the Communist Party’s elite, red chairs were mounted on viewing stands at the front of the square.
A military brass band played and a youth choir sang as a military honor guard brandished the national flag. Youths and rows of attendees behind them waved small red Communist Party flags in a careful choreography.
Toni Li, a local professor who has been coming to July 1 anniversaries since she was a girl, said that the chair arrangement had reduced the density of the crowd from previous years. But since Beijing has not had any virus cases for months, she was unconcerned about any risk of infection at the gathering.
“I don’t worry about that — it’s safe here,” she said.
China’s leader warns that Beijing won’t be ‘bullied’ by foreign forces.
Marking 100 years since the founding of China’s Communist Party, Xi Jinping told an audience on Tiananmen Square on Thursday that the party was the only force capable of ensuring the country’s rise. He also issued a rousing warning against any foe that stood in the way.
In a speech that cast the Communist Party as a savior, fighting off foreign and domestic oppression, Mr. Xi said the party’s continued rule was essential to ensuring that China stayed on course to becoming a wealthy and advanced world power.
“The Chinese people have never bullied, oppressed or enslaved the peoples of other countries, not in the past, not now and not in the future,” he said.
“At the same time, the Chinese people will never allow foreign forces to bully, oppress or enslave us,” he added. “Whoever nurses delusions of doing that will crack their heads and spill blood on the Great Wall of steel built from the flesh and blood of 1.4 billion Chinese people.”
Mr. Xi’s warning brought rousing shouts and applause from tens of thousands of people on Tiananmen Square handpicked to hear his keynote speech for the party’s centenary. Mr. Xi paid tribute to the party’s revolutionary founders, but his focus was on the Communist Party’s future role as a vehicle for “the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.”
China, he said, was a force for peace in the world and wanted peaceful unification with Taiwan, the self-governed, democratically run island that Beijing claims as its territory. But in words that brought loud applause, Mr. Xi warned against what he called “schemes” to achieve full independence for Taiwan.
“Nobody should underestimate the staunch determination, firm will and powerful capacity of the Chinese people to defend national sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
Xi Jinping has ruled with an iron fist, imposing harsh crackdowns to quash dissent.
Since becoming general secretary of the Communist Party in late 2012, Xi Jinping, 68, has made it increasingly clear that he sees himself as a transformative leader — in the footsteps of Mao and Deng — guiding China into a new era of global strength and rejuvenated one-party rule. And by many measures he is already the most powerful leader since Deng or even Mao, and presides over an economy and a military much stronger than in their times.
Few Chinese leaders from recent decades are more steeped in the Communist Party’s heritage than Mr. Xi.
He was born into a revolutionary family, endured the upheavals of Mao Zedong’s era, and began his career as a party official when Deng Xiaoping and other leaders opened up market reforms.
Before Mr. Xi came to power, many in China thought that he would be a milder figure, because his father, Xi Zhongxun, was a revolutionary veteran who in the early 1980s oversaw the beginnings of market reforms in Guangdong Province.
Xi Zhongxun had suffered decades of confinement and persecution after Mao turned against him, and his family was torn apart during Mao’s Cultural Revolution. Like millions of other youths at that time, the younger Mr. Xi was sent to labor in the countryside, and he spent seven years in a dusty village in northwest China.
But after coming to power, he pursued scorching crackdowns against official corruption and domestic dissent, and applied harsh measures to bring areas like Xinjiang and Hong Kong firmly under Chinese control.
Mr. Xi appears driven by the conviction that for China to secure lasting stability and prosperity, the Communist Party must reassert its control, and he must remain in command of the party.
In 2018, he abolished the two-term limit on the Chinese presidency, opening the way to remain in office — as president, party leader and chairman of the Chinese military — for many years to come. His next big step in that journey will be next year, when a Communist Party congress appears likely to acclaim him for a third term as party leader.