From a production standpoint yesterday's day-long extended commercial for 60 years of Communist Party rule in China was, as expected, an impressive spectacle. Every tiny detail was impeccably choreographed, down to the symbolism of President Hu wearing a Mao jacket to inspect the troops (in a Chinese-made limo) , while donning Western suit and tie for the evening's gala show.
Nevertheless, all the razzamatazz could not quite hide the mass of ironies and contradictions in the underlying message. The most obvious irony is that of proclaiming the nation's peaceful intent while showing off its largest ever assemblage of deadly weapons. Somehow the doves of peace in the evening show failed to harmonise with the tanks and ICBMs of the earlier parade.
Even more at odds with the peaceful image China seeks to project is that all this weaponry is primarily aimed, not at any external enemy, but at intimidating 23 million fellow-Chinese separated from the PRC by a narrow stretch of water and a century of history. And then there is the little matter of proudly displaying the armed might of the PLA on the very spot where its reputation was irreparably tarnished by its slaughter of the innocents in June 1989.
As in many cucltural events in China, there is also the irony of relying heavily on the traditional costumes and dances of the nation's many ethnic minorities to bring colour to the evening's festivities, at a time when relations between the Han majority and at least two of the largest of those minorities are so tense that they have erupted into violence in recent times.
But perhaps the biggest irony of all is that a writer on China (Martin Jacques, I think it was) could say on the ATV news a few nights ago that one of China's biggest problems was not only its tremendous gap between the rich and poor, but that many of the poor strongly resented the rich because they believed most of them to have become rich by foul means. Which is pretty much where we came in in 1949 - maybe what China needs now is a communist revolution?