As a large-scale military parade filed through the centre of Beijing last week, showcasing state-of-the-art weapons technology, audiences around the region debated the celebration’s significance. Was this really a commemoration of the 70th anniversary of China’s victory over Japan in the Second World War? Was this display of military might “anti-fascist,” as China’s state media loudly claimed? Or was it, as some suggested, sending exactly the opposite message — that China is ready to rumble?
Whatever China hoped to show the world, it is quite clear from the domestic framing of this story in the Chinese media that the leadership was sending a clear message to people at home: be proud of our nation’s newfound strength, and be positive about its future.
The front page of the CCP’s official People’s Daily on September 4, 2015.
Stay positive. This has been one of President Xi Jinping’s most consistent messages over the past three years, whether he is encouraging people to embrace the “Chinese Dream” or to brace themselves for the “new normal.” Since Xi came to office, positivity has even entered the news control lexicon. “Positive energy,” or the longer phrase “transmitting positive energy to society” (传播社会正能量), has become an important Xi-era concept for propaganda officials.
The frame of positivity in the face of hardship is perhaps the best way to understand the recent military parade in Beijing as a domestic strategy. What better message at a time when China indeed faces a range of knotty problems? Remaining positive means remaining cohesive, and that right now is chief concern of the Chinese Communist Party.
It is not at all surprising, then, to see the rhetoric of “positive energy” creeping into the discussion in China’s state media of the military parade and its significance. The following piece, which appeared in the September 3 edition of the official People’s Daily, is an interview with two military experts, Shao Weizheng (邵维正) of PLA’s Logistics Command Academy, and Gong Fangbin (公方彬) of China’s National Defence University.
Professor Gong’s final words encapsulate it best: “In order to seize these opportunities and overcome these challenges, we must cohere the positive energy of our people — and a military parade is an important way to stimulate national self-confidence and pride.”
What is the chief significance in glancing back at the history of Chinese resistance against the Japanese invasion, and at China’s victory in the war against Japan? Why have we chosen the form of a military parade to commemorate this victory? With these questions, our reporter interviewed Shao Weizheng (邵维正), a professor at the Logistics Command Academy of the People’s Liberation Army, and National Defence University professor Gong Fangbin (公方彬). Making the Greatest Sacrifice, Offering the Most Resistance to the Japanese Army Reporter: The Chinese people’s war of resistance against Japan continued for a long time, and the war was of a severity rarely seen. Could you sum up its principal characteristics for us? Shao Weizheng: When you sum it up, the Chinese people’s war of resistance against Japan had four clear characteristics. First, China was the earliest to engage in a war against Japanese invasion. Second, China’s war against Japan was the longest. Third, the price paid by Chinese soldiers was greatest. Fourth, China offered the greatest resistance, with the greatest cost to the Japanese army. Gong Fangbin: We can see this kind of sacrifice in an interview a journalist did with an ordinary soldier during the war of resistance. “Do you think China’s war of resistance can be won?” [the reporter asked]. “It certainly can,” [the soldier said]. “What will you do after the victory is won?” “When victory comes I will be dead.” This is a spirit of sacrifice that arises from a national spirit. With this kind of great spirit, with this sort of perseverance and sacrifice, the destruction of the Chinese people was avoided. Justice and Evil Lock Horns in the Primary Theatre of the East Reporter: China’s war of resistance was an irreplaceable achievement contributing to the global war against fascism, but in what specific areas was this the case? Shao Weizheng: First, it prevented the advancement of Japanese troops from the north [CHECK]. Second, it delayed the invasion of Japanese troops in the south. Third, it supported actions in the Pacific War. Fourth, it destroyed plans the Japanese had to push their invasion westward.
In sum, the protracted war in the China had a major strategic role in forestalling [the Japanese] and [enabling] coordination in all fields, north, south, east and west. And the sacrifice of the people determined China’s great nation status, and made the great world victory over fascism possible. Reporter: Why is it that scholars in different countries have different understandings [about this history]? Where is the significance in holding a military parade to commemorate the anniversary? Shao Weizheng: For a long time in the West they have promoted a theory centred on Europe and the United States, and prejudice has stood in the way of fairness. The trend has been to “emphasise Europe and minimise Asia,” and to “emphasise America and minimise China.” There has been a belittling of the important role and status of the Chinese War of Resistance within the story of the Second World War, and now is the time for a truer history of that time.
There is still some debate about this test between justice and evil. The British historian Rana Mitter has written Forgotten Ally: China’s War with Japan, 1937-45, in which he points out that China was one of the earliest countries to resist the Axis powers, that the extended resistance hampered the efforts of the Japanese forces. But still, some countries seem incapable of giving China its proper due. Gong Fangbin: As for using a large-scale military parade to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the victory in the War of Resistance, this is the first time this has happened in our country. Today, the world has yet to totally eradicate the soil in which fascism might thrive. We must ensure the world does not again suffer the tragedy and pain it suffered during the Second World War. We must ensure that the Chinese people avoid having ever again to suffer the pain of outside invasion. And this means spread the force of justice needed to curb fascism, in order to deter those who act against the world. To Win Peace, We Must Have the Capability to Deter War Reporter: So is the point of a military parade to commemorate the anniversary of the victory in the War of Resistance principally to show our strength, determination and vision for peace? Gong Fangbin: China has emphasised again and again that this military parade is not directed toward any one country. The continued strengthening of the Chinese military is destined to become an indispensable force in the protection of world peace, because the Chinese army is carrying out a mission entrusted to it by the people — and the Chinese people are peace-loving, going forth into the world as builders of attitudes and values. Reporter: History teaches us that the ability to deter war is a prerequisite for winning peace. What use does a military parade have in raising the army’s ability to win? Gong Fangbin: Beating swords into ploughshares has always been a dream for humankind, and the force of justice has always dwelt deep within the hearts of the people. There needs to be a way to trigger the release of these forces. Holding a military parade is best way to direct the progress of justice forward.
Today, China is at an important stage of development, in which, as they say, “the opportunities are immense, but the challenges unprecedented.” In order to seize these opportunities and overcome these challenges, we must cohere the positive energy of our people — and a military parade is an important way to stimulate national self-confidence and pride.