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Originally published Friday, January 9, 2009 at 12:00 AM

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Glorious, painful anniversaries mark 2009

Celebrations for the 60th anniversary of modern China's founding are nearly 10 months off, but newspapers are full of stories about the grand military parade in Tiananmen Square.

McClatchy Newspapers

BEIJING — Celebrations for the 60th anniversary of modern China's founding are nearly 10 months off, but newspapers are full of stories about the grand military parade in Tiananmen Square.

The parade Oct. 1 will be the first display of China's muscle this decade, and it's likely to showcase some of the country's newest weaponry.

The pageantry to mark six decades of Communist Party rule is only one of the key dates this year, however, some marking particularly painful episodes in China's past.

Leaders are a tad nervous.

In a nation where numbers play a prominent role in culture and anniversaries often are noticed dutifully, 2009 marks an unusual confluence of such anniversaries, most likely to be swept under the collective rug or suppressed through force.

June 4 will mark the 20th anniversary of the massacre of pro-democracy protesters in and around the capital's huge Tiananmen Square, a historic smudge on China's leadership for which it's yet to be held to account. The year also marks the 50th anniversary of the famine that left tens of millions of people dead during Mao Zedong's Great Leap Forward, a calamitous push for China's rapid industrialization.

Other anniversaries, great and small, are around the corner.

David Kelly, a political scientist with the China Research Center at Australia's University of Technology Sydney, said China doesn't have "a government that feels it can let its guard down. ... This is a regime that feels threatened by any challenge. Even a minor challenge can potentially shake the government."

China's security forces are adept in handling unrest, as they showed in March while quashing ethnic Tibetan uprisings, the broadest ethnic protests in nearly two decades.

The Tibet issue may come to the fore again around March 17, the 50th anniversary of the flight into exile of the Dalai Lama, the Tibetan spiritual leader.

July 22 brings the 10th anniversary of the banning of Falun Gong, a little-known spiritual movement that mushroomed into an anti-party force. The anniversary may become a test of whether security officials have effectively extinguished the cult.

Even celebrations over China's 60th anniversary haven't been without controversy.

In December, the liberal Yanhuang Chunqiu magazine, run by retired political elders, criticized plans for the Oct. 1 military parade as being lavish in a time of hardship.

Xinhua, China's official news agency, this week carried a report that China's leaders had ordered the parade "to be carried out in a strictly frugal manner."

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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