China at 60
China's celebrating 60 years of Communist rule, the radio tells me as I awake.
Surely not? I counted back. I was in the stands on Tien an Men Square, Deng Xiao Peng over to my right, for the 35th anniversary celebrations in 1984. It seemed like witnessing history at the time. Now I learn 25 years have passed, which makes me feel like a historical figure myself.
I was teaching at Beijing Forestry College at the time, a government backed programme which got me my prime invitation. The day was astonishing, a half million march past in the daytime stacked with military hardware and goosestepping soldiers. Then in the evening half a million people danced in unison, their bodies forming shifting patterns across the square, before we all gazed up into a nighttime ablaze with fireworks that made little kids of us it was so sustained and wondrous.
That was a Beijing of bicycles rather than cars, most without lights so a body of bikers moved at night like a whale pushing through blackness. The country was heaving itself toward 'progress'. The current smog cleared for the 60th anniversary procession, I heard, and the day shone bright. I'm glad. We all need good days to remember.