China / Society

Chinese National Day memories and wishes

(Xinhua) Updated: 2014-09-29 18:59

BEIJING - Gazing at an old black-and-white photo of Tiananmen Square in 1979, Jiao Li recalls celebrating the National Day as a child.

"I was six and had just started school," said the 41-year-old accountant at a state-owned petroleum firm in Beijing. "It was Oct 1, the National Day. The square was so crowded that it was hard to move. My father carried me on his back most of the time."

As a child, she felt the visit to Tiananmen every fall was like a pilgrimage. "I never asked why. It was just a routine way for most Beijing families to celebrate the National Day. Many elderly people also joined the crowd -- some in wheelchairs."

Her family's annual pilgrimage began in the late afternoon, just in time to see Tiananmen as the sun set. Traffic was at a standstill for three kilometers surrounding the square, forcing them to walk to their destination. When they finally returned home, it was nearly midnight.

"Tired as I was, I used to find those trips exciting because I had no other chance to stay up that late," said Jiao.

Jiao remembers those trips as inspiring. "Everyone -- my parents, teachers and the anchorman on TV -- kept telling us to 'work harder and grow up to serve the motherland'."

She stopped her annual pilgrimage to Tiananmen after she went to university in Shanghai in the fall of 1992.

"Over the decades, the National Day decorations in the square have changed dramatically: from simple plastic lanterns in the 1970s to neon lights and laser lights in the 1980s. This year, they've even used 3D-printed flowers."

Jiao took her son to Tiananmen only twice on National Day and only because homework assignments required he write with a holiday theme. "He apparently did not enjoy the trip. He's used to traveling around by car, but there was no parking anywhere near Tiananmen, so we could only take the crowded subway."

This year, her son Chen Yuhang is looking forward to the National Day for different reasons. For the 12-year-old, the week-long holiday is a time for outings, films, feasts and computer games.

The sixth-grader, however, has a dream closely related to National Day. He hopes he can enter Beijing National Day School, one of the best middle schools in the capital, next year.

"He's working hard these days for that purpose and I fully support him," said Jiao. Unlike her parents who taught her to "serve the motherland," she tells her son to "become a man of integrity and always try to achieve his personal best."

Red-letter day

On Oct 1, 1949, Mao Zedong stood at the Tiananmen Rostrum to declare the founding of the People's Republic of China. Two months later, the Chinese government declared Oct 1 National Day.

For An Hongrong, 84, it was a red-letter day: she was in the lucky crowd of people who were handpicked to witness the historical moment at Tiananmen.

"My colleagues and I were quite close to the rostrum and I could clearly see the expression on Mao's face," she said in an interview with Xinhua Monday.

An, then a primary school teacher in Tianjin, was among dozens of female teachers chosen to witness the grand ceremony in Beijing. They left their school to travel to Beijing at 2 am, crouching in the trailer of a truck.

"It was pitch dark when we arrived at Tiananmen, but many people were already there waiting for the grand ceremony to begin at 9 or 10," said An. "Some of them had arrived the previous evening."

Led by group leaders, An and her colleagues joined in a procession proclaiming slogans such as "Long Live Chairman Mao" and "Long Live the Communist Party of China."

"Many people cried. So did I," she said. "I said to myself, now at last, we can start our new life without depression."

Born in 1930, An's childhood memories were mostly about hunger and manslaughter by the invading Japanese troops between 1937 and 1945.

"The 1949 founding of New China turned a new page in history," said An. "The Chinese were no longer oppressed. Everyone was eager to contribute to his country's development."

At the end of the ceremony, An and her colleagues waited in long lines for their turn to retreat from the square.

They boarded the same truck, and it was late in the afternoon when they were back in Tianjin.

In a fit of agitation, An did not eat, drink or sleep for 24 hours, but felt "perfect."

Growing up with new China

Tao Youlan takes pride in the fact that she was born on the day New China was founded.

The oldest of four girls in a coal miner's family in east China's Anhui Province, Tao had a miserable childhood: her mother died from hunger in the famine of 1959-1961. Tao and her three sisters fed on weeds, bark and tree leaves.

At 17, Tao became a worker at a local machinery plant, a much-coveted job in the 1960s. Like most of her peers, she worked on night shifts, from 5 pm to 5 am, to minimize pressure on the finicky power supply system. Her starting wage was 18 yuan (2.9 US dollars) a month and when she retired in 1998, she earned less than 500 yuan (81 US dollars).

For decades, her family of five huddled in a one-bedroom apartment and her two daughters shared a bed on the balcony. She never complained, because "nothing was too hard for someone who was almost starved at childhood."

In 1997, the year before she retired, their family moved into a two-bedroom apartment, where they have lived until today. The place becomes crowded once more when her married daughters visit with families.

But Tao does not care: she is rarely home anyway. Most time of the day she's busy dancing with her friends in a nearby square. "In my younger days, I always worried about food and clothing. Today, however, life is so much better and it's important for us to be healthy and enjoy life."

Tao said she would celebrate the National Day and her 65th birthday dancing. "It's the best way to express my happiness."

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