China celebrates the 60th anniversary of its founding today. The massive military parade, propaganda films and genuine outpouring of pride by the Chinese people are befitting China’s growing clout and influence. I can not forget sitting up at midnight on July 1, 1997 when Hong Kong was handed over to China and a smaller parade of military vehicles crossed the border into the New Territories to establish the PLA’s garrison in Hong Kong. That day was a lavish celebration too, replete with fireworks, pageantry and testaments to the late Deng Xiaoping who successfully strategized a key component of China’s reunification. I recall editorializing at the time that it was quite a party and the first opportunity for China to celebrate since 1949.
Mao Zedong was the master of ceremonies on October 1, 1949, and he will again be front and center today, his portrait overlooking Chang An Avenue and Tiananmen Square a few feet below where he stood 60 years ago and announced the founding of the People’s Republic of China. Some of Chairman Mao’s most disastrous decisions – particularly the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution – help explain why the Chinese people had so few milestones to celebrate in the 48 years prior to Hong Kong’s return.

But there is a reason Mao’s portrait continues to enjoy pride of place on the Gate of Heavenly Peace and his face is on every denomination of China’s currency. The Communist Party’s victory in the civil war and subsequent nation-building efforts laid the foundation for modern China, earning Chairman Mao recognition as the founding father of the nation. Mao’s legacy is undoubtedly flawed and the
Party is unwilling at the moment to engage in introspection over the tumultuous years of his rule, preferring instead to recognize that he made mistakes but his contributions to the nation outweigh his misjudgments.

While that might not be satisfying to some, to others, it is fitting that the Party and people of China continue to focus on the future. I expect that spirit of forward-looking optimism to pervade the festivities and national pride felt by the Chinese people on their nation’s 60th anniversary.