On Day for China Pride, Little Interest in Ideology

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BEIJING — Xie Jun, 23, is a modern Chinese patriot. On Thursday, when thousands of soldiers and rows of tanks and caissons move in perfect order past Tiananmen Square to commemorate 60 years of Communist Party rule, his heart will skip a beat and a lump will rise in his throat.

“I’ve learned from textbooks the history of China — how we were invaded in the past by foreigners,” he said this week as he sold bananas and persimmons from a fruit cart in a leafy downtown neighborhood. “How, in order to survive, we had to band together in love of country. I’m proud that China has turned from a backward country into a country with international standing in such short time.”

Few would deny him his pride in China’s miracle. But ask Mr. Xie to explain China’s core values — not what his country achieved, but what it stands for — and he is dumbstruck, a student called on in class to report on the book he forgot to read.

“The ability of China to adapt,” he said after a long silence. “To learn from the West.” And, in a phrase that sounds plucked from a pamphlet, “the diligence and industriousness of the laboring masses.”

China’s ruling Communist Party is throwing itself a huge and meticulously choreographed anniversary party on Thursday, a celebration whose overarching theme echoes the words Mao spoke after forcing the Nationalists to surrender Beijing in 1949. “Ours will no longer be a nation subject to insult and humiliation,” Mao said. “We have stood up.”

From the displays of advanced weaponry to the celebration posters highlighting Shanghai’s forest of skyscrapers, the unmistakable message of this celebration is that Mao was right and that the Communist Party is carrying all China to prosperity and worldwide respect.

But prosperity is a condition, not a value. And on the eve of a great patriotic celebration, at least a few Communist leaders must be wondering whether lashing patriotism to eternal prosperity is not, at least a little, like riding a tiger...

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