With just days to go until China’s massive military and civilian parade to mark the 70th anniversary of the People’s Republic on October 1, the city of Beijing, like the rest of the country, has already entered into a special mode, all too familiar to its residents. Beijing’s autumn is already the best of the four seasons but the weather will be even better in the coming days as the authorities have started to shut down polluting factories in the surrounding provinces. Red lanterns and celebratory red banners are festooned along the busy downtown streets and hundreds of thousands of volunteers wearing red armbands have begun to appear on the street corners of neighbourhoods to keep a watchful eye on strangers and potential troublemakers. Office buildings, hospitals and schools along Chang’an Boulevard, through which the parade will pass, will soon be locked down for security purposes, with occupants given extra days off, adding to what is already a seven-day National Day holiday. Travellers into the city by air or over land will face tighter security checks and the already-tightly-policed information superhighway is under even closer scrutiny, so much so that Hu Xijin, the editor in chief of the nationalistic and strident Global Times newspaper, complained on Wednesday on Weibo, the Chinese equivalent of Twitter, that it was extremely difficult even for his staff to log on to overseas websites, and that restrictions were overdone. He begged online censors to leave some more “cracks” between the Chinese society and overseas sites to show “the country is not fragile”. But his plea is likely to fall on deaf ears. These heavy-handed measures are standard fare for local residents whenever major events are held. Why soaring pork prices are a touchy problem for China’s leaders What makes this year’s National Day parade unusual and interesting to watch is how President Xi Jinping will be celebrated and honoured in China’s official parlance, in which specific words and phrases can carry significant political meanings. The Chinese people have a tradition of celebrating five- and 10-year anniversaries, in which every tenth anniversary becomes more important. Over the past few decades, every decennial national day celebration has been accompanied by an elaborate military and civilian parade involving hundreds of thousands of people, and featuring flowers and tanks. At home, such parades are aimed at showing the leader’s political power and stature and the country’s economic strength. To the outside world, they are meant to show national unity against hostile international forces. It goes without saying that the People’s Republic has much to celebrate on its 70th anniversary as the country has become the world’s second-largest economy and, in Xi’s own words, is on the way to becoming a “powerful nation”. The occasion will also be Xi’s show as the celebration aims at further elevating his political authority and stature. He is already described as the most powerful Chinese leader since Mao Zedong, founder of the People’s Republic. According to official reports, the celebration will start in the morning and last into the night. It will include an elaborate ceremony in Tiananmen Square, a grand military parade, a civilian parade, and nightly performances and fireworks, involving nearly 160,000 soldiers and civilians and perhaps the same number again providing logistics and security. Xi’s channelling of Mao shows he’s about to get tough on Hong Kong Perhaps the largest-ever organised celebration to showcase China’s rise comes amid an increasingly hostile international environment, in which China has engaged in a prolonged trade war with the United States and the months-long anti-government protests in Hong Kong continue unabated. By tradition, each top Chinese leader since Mao has usually been granted one occasion to stand atop the Tiananmen rostrum, receiving salutes and cheers from the military and civilian parades, as a demonstration they are at the pinnacle of power. But the upcoming parade will not be Xi’s first and is unlikely to be his last. In 2015, Xi presided over a lavish military parade to mark the defeat of Japan in the second world war, in the presence of dozens of foreign heads of state and top officials, including Russian President Vladimir Putin and the then UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. This time, Xi should have the limelight all to himself and propaganda officials are likely to reach deep into their rich trove of superlatives to find the most fulsome praise they can possibly heap on Xi and his grand vision to make China great again. It will be very interesting to see if the occasion will embolden the officials to address Xi with designations once reserved for Mao. No troops, no concessions, no end in sight for Hong Kong unrest Mao’s reign lasted from 1949 to 1976, but the personality cult surrounding him reached its apex over his last 10 years in power, during the Cultural Revolution, as propaganda officials developed a detailed playbook to glorify him. Among other superlatives, Mao was reverently addressed as “Great Teacher, Great Leader, Great Supreme Commander, and Great Helmsman”. Meanwhile, the expression “Long Live Chairman Mao” was immortalised in a song and became a slogan to be shouted at rallies and meetings. Following Mao’s death in 1976, successive Chinese leaders, including Deng Xiaoping, Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao, have stayed shy of such high-sounding superlatives and discouraged efforts to build personality cults around them. Instead, they have highlighted the importance of collective leadership. But things started to change after Xi came to power in late 2012 as he tried to strengthen his personal authority, particularly after he was endorsed as the “core” of the party leadership in 2016. Since the leadership amended the constitution and abolished the two-term limit for the presidency so that Xi could rule for as long as he likes – not to mention including his personal philosophy of ‘Xi Jinping Thought’ into the Communist Party’s charter in October 2017 – the propaganda machine has gone into overdrive to praise Xi. Hong Kong needn’t fear the PLA, even if it is a US-China battleground Inevitably, officials have delved into their old playbooks to search for ideas and test the water. For instance, early last month, the People’s Daily , the party’s flagship newspaper, carried Xi’s quotes at the top of its leading front-page articles on 10 consecutive days. This evoked memories of the old days when Mao’s quotes would appear on the top-right corner of the front page on an almost-daily basis. In the same month, a short video clip showing Xi touring a local landmark in the northwestern province of Gansu began trending online. In it, a well-dressed man can be heard shouting “Long Live the General Secretary”, a reference to Xi’s official party title. The subsequent Xinhua report did not acknowledge those words, instead quoting passers-by as shouting “Long Live the Motherland” and “Long Live the Communist Party of China”. Xi already has a number of designations. “People’s Leader”, “Strategist Behind China’s Reform”, “Top Commander Reshaping the Military”, “A World Leader”, and “Architect of Modernisation for the New Era” are just a few of them. Is Xi about to get new ones, like “People’s Helmsman” or “People’s Supreme Commander” – or even loftier ones? If he does, these new ones are most likely to come from the civilian parade. Back in 1984, in the parade to commemorate the 35th National Day, a group of Peking University students unfurled an unofficial banner made from a bedsheet. It read, “Hello, Xiaoping” and was aimed at praising the leader’s policies of opening up and reform. Since then, banners and slogans from the civilian parade have become an interesting indicator of the political standing of the top Chinese leader. ■ Wang Xiangwei is the former editor-in-chief of the South China Morning Post. He is now based in Beijing as editorial adviser to the paper. His next column will appear on October 5.