China celebrated its rise to a world power over 60 years of Communist rule on Thursday, staging its biggest-ever parade of military hardware with over 100,000 marching masses in a display that stirred patriotism - and some unease.
Police blocked off a wide area around central Beijing's Tiananmen Square for the 60th anniversary of the People's Republic.
People were told to stay away and watch the events on television, though that did not dampen a festive air as residents gathered in homes and alleys.
President Hu Jintao, dressed in a gray Mao tunic instead of the business suit he usually wears, reviewed the thousands of troops and hundreds of tanks and other weaponry, shouting "Hello, comrades" while riding in an open-top, domestically made Red Flag limousine.
During the two-hour-plus festivities, more than 100 helicopters, communication airships and Chinese-made fighter jets flew over the city in formation.
After the armaments, 60 floats celebrating last year's Beijing Olympics, China's manned space program and other symbols of progress rolled by as tens of thousands of students flipped coloured cards in unison to make pictures of lucky symbols and spell out political slogans.
The events were meant to underscore what Hu called the "great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation."
"The Chinese culture and civilisation has 5,000 years of history and together we have entered our current stage of development," Hu later said standing atop Tiananmen gate in a speech that referred to his Communist Party predecessors and China's success.
The feel-good, if heavily scripted moment tapped into Chinese pride surrounding the country's turnaround from the war-battered, impoverished state the communists took over on October 1, 1949 to the dynamic, third-largest world economy of today.
The buoyant mood glossed over the country's gut-wrenching twists - the ruinous campaigns of revolutionary leader Mao Zedong that left tens of millions dead - as well as its current challenges: a widening gap between rich and poor, rampant corruption, severe pollution and ethnic uprisings in the western areas of Tibet and Xinjiang.
Security in Beijing has been intensifying for weeks over worries that protests, which are common in China, or an over-exuberant crowd might mar the ceremonies.
Parts of central Beijing were sealed off and businesses were told to shut down beginning on Tuesday. Flights in and out of Beijing's international airport were suspended on Thursday morning.
An intensive cloud-seeding operation helped clear away the smog that had shrouded Beijing for two days.
Sixty is an auspicious number that plays well with Chinese who say it traditionally represents the full life of a person.
The country's leadership has avoided mention of anything to do with superstition, though. The government has customarily held military parades on 10th anniversaries.
With China riding high in the world and feeling good about itself after the Beijing Olympics, the 60th was the Hu leadership's chance to score popularity points.
Early this year, before China's economy rebounded from the global downturn, authorities promised only a modest celebration in keeping with the gloomy times.
The parade is now billed by state media as China's largest-ever display of weaponry, reminiscent of the Soviet Union, and came with the mass synchronised performances usually associated with North Korea.
Alongside the 80,000 card-flippers, another 100,000 civilians accompanied the floats, many of them with kitschy displays of computers and signs of industry.
Floats carried huge portraits of the communist pantheon: Mao, reform architect Deng Xiaoping and even Hu - an unexpected appearance for a normally reserved leadership.
Some 5,000 goose-stepping troops who rehearsed for as long as a year accompanied the armaments - new unmanned aerial drones, amphibious fighting vehicles and new DH-10 land-based anti-ship cruise missiles.
The People's Liberation Army in its newspaper early this year said the event's meaning was clear: "This military parade is a comprehensive display of the Party's ability to rule and of the overall might of the nation." AP