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Performance, Spectacle, and Visual Poetry in the Sixtieth Anniversary National Day Parade in the People's Republic of China


  • Erika Kuever

    1. Indiana University
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    • Erika Kuever is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Anthropology and East Asian Languages and Cultures at Indiana University and received an M.Sc. in Anthropology and International Development at the London School of Economics and Political Science. Her dissertation research focuses on consumer rights and citizenship in contemporary China, and she is broadly interested in the politics of consumption and consumer protection, consumer law, consumption and social change, and economic nationalism.


The sixtieth anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China on 1 October 2009 was marked with a massive parade in the heart of Beijing viewed on hundreds of millions of television screens across the nation. English-language media coverage focused primarily on what it saw as the event's explicit message: the Communist Party's celebration of the nation's military might and continued economic growth, and its origins in a coherent and uniquely Chinese ideology. Such coverage largely reflected international fears of China and thus misread the parade's import and impact on its domestic audience. I argue that the National Day events are better understood as a form of visual poetry that relied on performance to emotionally conflate party, nation, and state. Both the speeches of party leaders and the scripted remarks of state media commentators relied on language and ideas that the Chinese public has heard numerous times. The visual elements of the parade, in contrast, were unprecedented in both scale and spectacle. Hundreds of thousands took part in displays of collective harmony, unified patriotic sentiment, and ethnic unity. The distinctive style and rhythm of the parade depicted a vision of nationhood without the ethnic fractures, labour unrest, and massive inequalities that constitute the greatest threat to the power of the party-state as it embarks on its seventh decade of continuous rule.