In Changping suburb in north-west Beijing, hundreds of Chinese soldiers in dress uniform and full battle attire are marching in the sweltering summer heat, their every step synchronised to perfection in a mesmerising display.
For at least eight hours almost every day over the past three months, they have been training in a military base on the outskirts of the capital in preparation for a massive military parade on Sept 3 to mark the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II.
In total, 12,000 troops will participate in the parade.
With less than two weeks to go now, Beijing is sparing no effort in ensuring that the parade - the first China is holding to celebrate the end of the war - is a roaring success.
From shutting down factories and restricting the number of cars on the road to ensure blue skies to sprucing up Beijing with 2.8 million new flower pots, China is putting its best face forward despite the political sensitivities that have dampened international enthusiasm for the event.
PATRIOTISM TO THE FORE
While they are showcasing their weaponry to intimidate and impress, they also want to use the parade to foster a sense of nationalism and patriotism. It's a sort of party to show its people that China has arrived.
MR WENDELL MINNICK, Asia bureau chief of Defence News, on why Beijing is going all out for the anniversary
Popular tourist attractions, including the Forbidden City, have been closed till after the parade, while Sanlitun, a key entertainment district, is closed this weekend for rehearsals.
Parade deputy commander Qu Rui told a news conference last Friday that the troops will march through the Tiananmen Square, along with 27 formations of military equipment and 10 formations of helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft. More than 100 aircraft will also perform flypasts in the skies over the Forbidden City and the Great Hall of the People.
Experts said the parade is widely seen as a public display of the People's Liberation Army's fast- growing capabilities, and comes as Beijing has become increasingly assertive in its territorial claims.
But its nationalistic message is also aimed at its domestic audience, they added.
"While they are showcasing their weaponry to intimidate and impress, they also want to use the parade to foster a sense of nationalism and patriotism" Defence News' Asia bureau chief Wendell Minnick told The Sunday Times. "It's a sort of party to show its people that China has arrived."
Major-General Qu emphasised that all weapons and equipment at the parade are China-made, with 84 per cent of them shown for the first time. In another first, foreign troops from more than 10 states, including Russia and Kazakhstan, are also joining in a Chinese parade, he added, declining to give further details.
He also denied that the parade was targeted at Japan, which signed its formal surrender on Sept 2, 1945.
"Demonstrating advanced weapons is common practice around the world in military parades," Maj-Gen Qu said. "This is not aimed at any other country."
Still, while invites have been extended to many world leaders, many Western leaders are expected to give the parade a miss due to concerns that it is aimed at shaming Japan, which has become a close ally of the West.
Only Russian President Vladimir Putin, Mongolian President Tsakhiagiin Elbegdorj, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and Czech President Milos Zeman have indicated they will attend, along with unidentified leaders from Central Asian states, said state media.
South Korean President Park Geun Hye has said she will attend a ceremony marking the anniversary, but aides said she remains undecided on attending the military parade.
Yesterday, Chinese officials ramped up publicity efforts by taking foreign reporters to the Changping base to showcase the parade's preparation efforts.
One of the foot formation soldiers Yang Lei, 35, said a full day of training involves taking some 20,000 steps, equivalent to walking between 15km and 17 km.