While an exclusive gathering of floats and tanks colored Tiananmen Square, curtains were drawn and streets were cleared in the surrounding districts of Beijing as the nation celebrated the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China on Tuesday.
More than 100,000 military and civilian participants gathered at the heart of a slightly smoggy Beijing early in the morning. Many civilians waved small flags while soldiers marched toward President Xi Jinping before he reviewed the People's Liberation Army in the highly anticipated military parade.
"Greetings comrades, thank you for your hard work!" Xi called out from a black limousine as it drove several kilometers along Chang'an Avenue, the capital's major thoroughfare, now lined with heavy military weaponry including tanks and missiles. Soldiers of the People's Liberation Army shouted back in unison, "Follow the orders of the party, win the war, and have a fine style of work!"
Above, aircraft flew in formation to create the number "70." Somewhere in the square, a massive military band played song after song without any break.
Meanwhile, a couple of kilometers away, workers and neighbors gathered around television screens in a cafe. Delivered food was sprawled out on tables normally reserved for customers, and no worker seemed inclined to serve a hesitant foreigner standing by the entrance.
Banned from the streets, Beijing residents took to their television screens to take part in the celebrations. Even guards, entrusted with keeping residents from peeking onto the parade route, sat glued to their phones, which were streaming live footage of colorful floats that depicted key events in China over the past 70 years.
"I'm filled with joy for the country's progress," said one such enthusiastic guard in Japanese. She had been stationed in front of a building on the parade route for over 24 hours.
Millions of Chinese took to domestic social media platforms like WeChat to express their excitement and pleasure in China's progress. "I am proud that I am Chinese! Happy birthday China!" many wrote on Sina Weibo, China's Twitter.
In the last 70 years since Oct. 1, 1949, when Communist leader Mao Zedong declared the founding of the People's Republic of China after defeating Chiang Kai-shek's Nationalist army and finally ridding the nation of foreign forces, China has emerged as an economic powerhouse.
"I love you China! China will get better and better in the future," wrote a businessman in his late 20s on WeChat, posting a photo of himself holding a Chinese flag on the Great Wall.
Some, however, could not hide their disappointment in the heavily secured parades. Jason Lee, a 31-year-old doctor, said that closed off to the greater public, the celebration felt "government-led."
"As an ordinary person, I am happy and excited about the great day, but I can't take part in the celebratory parade. I can only watch it on TV," he said.