Beijing students attend a National Day celebration rehearsal in Tian'anmen Square. [China Daily]
Li Ping had planned a fun trip to the United States for her daughter Tian Ziyun. She was to attend a summer camp and fulfill her dream of going to Disneyland in Los Angeles. Everything was ready - the visa, the tour plans and the flight tickets.
But just before their departure came the news that the youngster had been selected to take part in the 60th National Day celebration on Oct 1.
The decision to cancel the trip didn't take long. "My daughter can go to the US anytime she wants but taking part in the 60th National Day celebration is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," explains Li, the 43-year-old mother in Beijing.
Her daughter Tian, a 13-year-old junior high student from the Branch School of Beijing No 5 Middle School, is one of 80,000 children who will be on Tian'anmen Square flipping boards and waving flowers on cue to form pictures and Chinese characters in the grand National Day gala.
The teenager's summer vacation plans in the US were replaced by three months of training for the big day. From 7 am to 10 am every day, Tian and her schoolmates gathered at school and sometimes spent the three hours practicing just one simple but tiresome movement, such as waving flowers for exactly nine minutes and two seconds.
Tian and her schoolmates, who belong to the post-'90s generation, dubbed China's "self-centered generation", may still have only a vague idea of patriotism and national pride, but the idea of taking part in the historic parade that features more than 200,000 people is enough to excite them.
"The training occurred during the hottest time of the year but the kids were very hard-working. They become serious and solemn when they talk about their performance," says Yang Chunlin, principal of the Branch School of Beijing No 5 Middle School, which has about 1,000 students taking part in the celebrations.
Tian, who was at first a little disappointed over not being able to go to the US, cherishes the rare opportunity.
"I felt thrilled every time I heard our teacher say 'we have training after class'. It's hard for me to describe (the feeling)," says Tian. "It is not only an honor but also fun because I have more time to hang out with my classmates. Even the free bread and sausage we were given at the training sessions tasted better than those Mom bought."
Although her classmate Li Mengxuan broke her foot before the training, she insisted on watching her classmates practice from her wheelchair.
Students attending a recent rehearsal for the National Day celebration wait for their turn in Tian'anmen Square.[China Daily]
"I don't want to fall behind my classmates," she says. "I might just be a little dot in the whole picture on that day but it would be incomplete without me."
The participants of the National Day celebration have finished four rounds of rehearsals on Tian'anmen Square and are now giving everything the final touches.
Li says she is looking forward to seeing her daughter's performance. "I believe it will be a unique experience for her," says Li, who participated in the 35th National Day parade as a high school student in 1984.
While today's school children may share the same enthusiasm for the parade as earlier generations, some things have changed, keeping pace with the nation's rapid growth in the recent past.