Dawn of a new era with changing of the guard for Beijing’s sunrise flag-raising service

Start of 2018 brings an end to a 35-year tradition for China’s paramilitary police in Tiananmen Square

PUBLISHED : Monday, 01 January, 2018, 9:24am
UPDATED : Monday, 01 January, 2018, 11:14pm

The new year saw a changing of the guard in one of the most popular and symbolic sights in Beijing – the daily flag-raising ceremony in Tiananmen Square.

On Monday, the People’s Liberation Army took over responsibility for the ceremony, which takes place at sunrise in the heart of the Chinese capital, replacing the paramilitary police that had fulfilled the task since 1982.

The change was a symbol that China had entered a “new era” in terms of its national ceremonies. By taking over the flag-raising event, the PLA was showing its “strong will” to modernise itself, defend national unity and safeguard world peace, Xinhua reported.

The event was broadcast live on state media. It will be repeated daily from now on by a PLA honour guard accompanied by an orchestra, it said.

On the signal from eight buglers positioned on Tiananmen Rostrum, 96 soldiers marched across the square carrying a huge national flag.

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At the head of the procession were three officers representing the army, navy and air force, with each carrying a sword.

The military band played the national anthem as the flag was raised. A crowd of more than 90,000 people clapped and cheered, and the band moved on to Ode to the Motherland.

Some of the music the band played was composed specially for the event, Xinhua said.

Zhang Lifan, a Beijing-based political commentator, said the army, navy and air force marching together showcased the military’s loyalty to the top leadership.

The new look ceremony also heralded the arrival of the “new era” – a key concept in Xi Jinping’s drive to establish himself as a transformative leader, Zhang said.

“The current leader likes symbolic moves,” he said. “A symbolic change on New Year’s Day shows that his ‘new era’ has arrived.”

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Attracting big crowds every day, the highly choreographed event has long been regarded as a symbol of national pride.

The change came after last week’s announcement that the country’s 1.5 million paramilitary police would come under the sole command of the Central Military Commission, a body headed by Xi that oversees the armed forces.

The former paramilitary flag guards would be transferred to the PLA, the Communist Party-run Global Times reported.

Xi has vowed to transform the PLA into an elite fighting force through an ambitious modernisation programme.