BEIJING - In the summer, the sun rises early in Beijing, so when the crowd piled into spectator stands on Tiananmen Square in the wee hours of Thursday (July 1) morning, it was already bright.
Some 70,000 spectators had gathered in the heart of the Chinese capital to celebrate the centenary of China's ruling party.
The festivities began with a mass singing of communist songs - which included tunes like “Without the Communist Party, there will be no New China” and “Socialism is good” – exhorting the people to be loyal to and keep faith with the party.
The Chinese Communist Party (CCP), which was founded in 1921, turns 100 this year. In the run up to the anniversary, the party has been drawing attention to its achievements, including its efforts to stem the spread of Covid-19 and the eradication of absolute poverty.
On Thursday morning, the party once more sought to drive home the message of its supremacy over Covid-19, telling spectators - who had entered the square masked - to remove their face masks just before the festivities.
For weeks, the CCP had kept details of its anniversary celebrations under wraps, all that was known was that party leader and Chinese President Xi Jinping would give a speech at the celebration on Thursday morning.
Dressed in a Mao suit, Mr Xi took to the podium and in a 70-minute speech stressed the centrality of the party, pointing to how the CCP had led China from when it was a nation where “people could not keep warm and their bellies full, till its ‘moderately prosperous’ status” today.
“In order to realise the rejuvenation of the Chinese nation, the CCP united and led the Chinese people through bloody battles, and proved to be indomitable,” he said.
About 20 minutes into Mr Xi’s speech, a light drizzle started that gave way into a steady downpour. Parts of it was drowned out by many reaching for their ponchos.
Mr Xi also sounded a warning against external forces that would try to “bully” or pressure China.
“Whoever wants to do this will smash their heads bloody against the Great Wall of steel formed by the blood of 1.4 billion Chinese people,” he said, to cheers from spectators.
The celebration was attended by top Chinese leadership including former president Hu Jintao. Television images did not appear to show former president Jiang Zemin in attendance.
Most of the celebration was taken up by Mr Xi’s speech, but before that, the party also took the chance to show off its latest air force hardware in a fly past involving its J-20 stealth fighter and Z-8 heavy lift helicopter, which flew past carrying the party flag and four banners containing slogans.
Other helicopter and jet formations streaked past the crowds forming the numbers “100” and “71”, representing the date - July 1.
Nevermind that the actual date of the CCP’s first party congress was on July 23.
At the end of the programme, the party released thousands of pigeons and balloons into the sky.
State news agency Xinhua had reported earlier that more than 14,000 people have been involved in rehearsals of the centenary parade.
In the run-up to the party's big day, security had been tightened in and around the Tiananmen Square area.
Schools and subway stations have been shut since earlier this week and residents in the vicinity, including near the Wangfujing shopping belt, have been told to remain at home until after the festivities end on Thursday.
Tiananmen Square, a popular tourist spot, had also been sealed off last week.
Restrictions have also been placed on diplomats and reporters attending the event, with requirements for pre-event quarantine and testing.
Foreign journalists were told that they had to be fully vaccinated with a Chinese vaccine before June 15 in order to attend the event.
Those attending the event were also made to take a nucleic acid test before being allowed into the quarantine hotel where they were subjected to another nucleic acid test.
Other restrictions include no hats of any sort, one mobile phone per person and a strict dress code.
Diplomats, who were not required to have a Chinese jab, were told they had to be in Beijing since June 13 in order to attend the event.