The sovereignty song-fest
As the day approaches, China is taking a deep breath and lifting up its head in a delirious celebration of patriotic emotion.
President Jiang Zemin, famous for leading sing-alongs, has turned the celebrations into an empire-sized karaoke session. From every corner, from the high mountains of Tibet to the tiniest kindergarten tots, come reports of a nation rehearsing for a climactic song-fest on July 1.
'March towards the future while singing the national anthem,' urged Friday's Guangming Daily whose front page carried the right text and notes.
'At this joyful moment it is especially significant for all citizens to learn how to sing the national anthem well,' the editorial said. A report on a national singing symposium carried the instructions of the singing General Secretary: 'National leaders have taken the lead to sing the national anthem in important public gatherings. The leaders of various levels shall follow suit. Instructions at key gatherings have been changed from 'play the national anthem' to 'sing the national anthem'.' At Beijing's Qinghua University 10,000 students are practising a choral performance of a programme entitled 'The 1997 Love Melody'. At Beijing University, students have already recorded a video, one of 60 prepared for the handover, to be broadcast on national television.
In Sichuan's Chongqing, a 10,000-strong choir will sing both the national anthem and the Song for the Motherland as 1,000 Jialing motorbikes parade through the streets and 8,000 fireworks are set off.
At Kailuan in Hebei province, 130,000 miners are holding a singing contest to see who is the best at rendering The Story of Spring which eulogises Deng Xiaoping, or favourites such as We Share the Same Home and No New China Without the Communist Party.
Each day the nation listens to radio broadcasts of the Motherland song which precedes the national news. Its verses start: 'The five-star red flag flutters in the wind and our song of victory is so loud and resonant. We sing for the dear motherland which will march towards prosperity and a rich and strong country from now on.' Dozens of new songs have been composed and recorded for the handover.
One shown nightly on television was recorded at the Old Summer Palace (the Yuanming Yuan) and goes: 'One hundred years ago, I witnessed your departure without being able to do anything. One hundred years later, I am expecting you to come back. The sea has turned to fields but I still miss you. I cry again and again for my 1997.' The ruins of the palace destroyed by British and French troops have also become a popular site for organisations like the Number One Public Bus Company to hold initiation ceremonies for new members of the Communist Party.
Thursday's People's Daily recorded with pride that even in Hong Kong the 'eulogy of the motherland is heard again' because there, young school children are busy rehearsing patriotic songs. 'The love of China by Hong Kong patriots has never changed in 150 years,' it concludes.
The most stirring patriotic sing-ins are the preserve of the army in concerts arranged to send off the People's Liberation Army garrison. Wednesday saw Liu Huaqing, the aged vice-chairman of the Central Military Commission, clapping along to the performances staged by the PLA's General Political Department.
Audiences at home saw tearful renderings of Song of the PLA Garrison Troops in Hong Kong: 'Hello Hong Kong, wish of the Himalaya, my Chinese heart. China! China! A red sun which will never fall. I and my motherland, one hundred years of dreams come true. You [Deng Xiaoping] said you will come on that day'.
On Thursday, television showed another concert to bid the troops farewell, this time hosted by anchorwoman Ni Ping. 'Right before your departure, we come to say goodbye. The whole country is watching you and the Chinese people trust you,' she said and entreated the men with a lump in her throat: 'We will miss you when you are in Hong Kong, please write often to your relatives here.' Then soldiers with chests bedecked with medals belted out Let the PLA Flag Tell the National Flag: 'My dear brother soldier, when the sky falls and the earth caves in, the people always think of you' and new songs like: 'Hong Kong, please accept the kind wishes of the soldiers . . . You often come to my dreams, now you are right in front of me', and 'Marching towards the holy moment' as well as 'Hello Hong Kong, with the protection of our soldiers the Pearl of the Orient will shine brighter tomorrow'.
Guest star was Lin Qing, the great, great grandson of Imperial Commissioner Lin Zexu, who, in a brief speech, said: 'You are the symbol of the motherland, you are lucky to be born in a great era with a powerful motherland behind you. The glory belongs to the motherland.' To re-inforce the central theme of patriotism, the state has opened an exhibition in Beijing, the first ever devoted solely to spreading knowledge of the national flag. It aims to make people understand why raising the flag is so important a ceremony.
The People's Daily quotes a student visitor saying that having visited the exhibition 'I love the five-star red flag, and I am proud to be Chinese', while a PLA visitor confesses that 'the motherland is in my heart and I treasure the flag more than my life'.
Equally important is the message that this swelling patriotism is felt not just by Han Chinese or the people of Hong Kong but those Chinese overseas and the national minorities.
'All the minorities are celebrating the return of Hong Kong,' the China Youth Daily proclaimed.
Even in Tibet, a local National People's Congress member Ke-San-Zhou-Ma notes that '100 years ago, British imperialists not only occupied Hong Kong but also imposed disasters on the Tibetan people. It is the Communist Party of China which completely liberated Tibet'.
In Lhasa, 1,997 young people from various nationalities are reported to have signed their names on a Khada silk scarf 1,997 centimetres long.
Meanwhile, in northern Tibet, 10,000 locals have been rehearsing a song and dance routine to celebrate the return.
Festivities of some kind are being organised in every town, big or small. Singing will be the main but not the only focus.
Some 400,000 Anhui students are taking part in a Hong Kong knowledge contest. Tianjin is having 1,997 athletes run nine kilometres carrying torches, followed by 3,600 fireworks, after which a giant poster will unfold which announces 'Long live the motherland'.
In Shaanxi province, local residents will even inform the legendary founder of the Chinese nation, the Yellow Emperor, about the return of Hong Kong by laying a memorial stone at his tomb.
In Beijing, the June 30 celebrations will start around 10 pm in Tiananmen Square with various performances including a gong and drum dance by the military police, a primary school production of Powerful China and the number 541 Factory's performance of a lion and dragon dance.
At midnight, guests waiting in front of the clock will shout out the countdown and there will be fireworks displays and other activities until it ends at 2.15 am with a rendition of Song for the Motherland by the entire cast and audience of over 100,000.
Then the solemn flag-raising ceremony will take place at 4.50 am.
On July 1, an afternoon reception and ceremony is scheduled in the Great Hall of the People with a speech by Prime Minister Li Peng. Then President Jiang will lead the singing by 80,000 people at the Workers' Stadium in the evening.
Some 18,000 will perform a five-part series of tableaux called The Whole World Shares the Same Moment. The first part is called the chapter of fire and is about 'one hundred years of blood and fire' and the finale is 'the bells toll for the century'.
Hong Kong pop stars such as Andy Lau Tak-wah or Zhang Mingmin will lend their voices to mass hits of Pearl of the Orient, and of course that great tear-jerker My Chinese Heart.
Wait and see if President Jiang joins in.