Xinhai Revolution

Precision, at the double

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 07 October, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 07 October, 2004, 12:00am

The run-up to Taiwan's Double Tenth Day - commemorating the start of the 1911 uprising that led to the founding of the Republic of China - sees intense activity around the Presidential Offices, site of the grand march-past and flag-fluttering display on the day itself. At night, wide phalanxes of identical motorcyclists escort black limousines with darkened windows in circuits round the presidential block. By day, you might encounter columns of uniformed schoolchildren, or dancers in Aboriginal costumes preparing for action.

This year, the date falls on a Sunday, but there will be little change to the routine. Ticket-holders will occupy their seats in good time, pennant-bearing children will be assembled facing the podium, and - come rain or shine - a procession featuring everything from American-style drum majorettes to trick cyclists will honour the republic, to the accompaniment of music ranging from military marches to jazz and swing.

Last weekend saw rehearsals in Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Square. In the fresh autumn weather, elite guards displayed their extraordinary arms drill to applauding onlookers. Preparing for Sunday's grand finale were hundreds of white-clad members of the Tai Ji Men Qigong Academy, aiming to promote world peace through the practice of martial arts. Drums thundered, children ran and jumped, and spears flashed in the intermittent sunlight.

The Double Tenth parade is always an immensely moving experience. It mixes mainland, Taiwanese and popular American traditions with an enthusiasm that can move you to tears. And, indeed, the very history of this part of Asia is inscribed in the spectacle.

Nevertheless, as in all theatre-like displays, special techniques are involved. Long ago, I was shown how the clicking sound was achieved as troops passed by - the screws holding the metal tips to the boot heels are loosened, and small chains are sometimes worn in the fold at the bottom of the trouser legs. None of this, however, obviated the need for hours of practice to create effects more akin to ballet than warfare.

Taiwan's soldiers and schoolchildren, traditional dancers and spear-shakers all have a unique attraction. They embody a spirit of intransigence, a fierce pride in their rugged and often problematic terrain, and an enthusiasm and manifest happiness born of hard work, good education and a successful economy. Recent electoral dissension is now all but forgotten, you feel, as Taiwan's elite troops and flamboyantly clad dancers prepare to exult once again in their day of days, not a hair out of place, not a heart out of line.