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Video: Tanks on the streets of Beijing

Or: How to add a dash of menace to a perfectly enjoyable evening

Anti-Japanese (war) Day

Given that tomorrow is Anti-Japanese (war) day in China, it seems an appropriate time to share this recently rediscovered video from way back in 2009.

Back then, I was only a couple of days into my first trip to China, travelling from Beijing to begin what turned into almost five years of photo taking and dim sum eating down in Hong Kong. I was heading back to my hostel in the Nanluoguxiang area, just north of Jingshan Park, when I began to notice people had started lining the streets.

Naturally, I had no idea why. I had a vague awareness that the October 1st national day holiday was approaching, but I was completely oblivious to the fact that 2009 would be the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic. When I saw the crowds gathering, I simply hung around in order to try and satisfy my curiosity as to what was going on.

I waited thirty minutes or so without anything happening. More people had gathered, most of whom seemed as unsure as I was about why everyone was lining the street. But there must have been some reason why those people were out there, waiting around increasingly impatiently on a chilly Beijing night. Was it a carnival, a lion dance, some kind of drum and firework show?

It was only September 18th, almost two weeks before the actual celebrations on October 1st. I was almost about to give up and leave. But then there were excited cries from down the road.

“Like what I imagine an abattoir sounds like”

The people around me started fumbling for their phones, craning their necks to see if they could possibly get a glimpse of what was coming. And then they arrived.

Wave after wave of jeeps, tanks and armoured personnel carriers, one after the other after the other, came charging though, unannounced, turning a pleasant Beijing evening into something more sinister.

Dark shadows approached out of the gloom, engines chugging, headlights dazzling ahead, a quiet autumn evening in a residential neighbourhood, shattered by this mechanical interlude. You could here the metallic sound of the tank tracks clinking on the tarmac as they passed, the soldiers standing stationary in the turret, staring straight ahead. It was what I imagine an abattoir may sometimes sound like.

Officially titled “The 70th anniversary of Chinese People’s Anti-Japanese War and the World Anti-Fascist War Victory Commemoration Day”, tomorrow’s “celebration” will mark the 70th anniversary of the Japanese surrender in WWII. A public holiday has been declared (great news) and a massive military parade is set to take place in Beijing, with plenty of tanks, plenty of flag waving, and plenty of imbeciles in neatly pressed uniforms doing silly walks. I’m sure it’s going to make everybody incredibly proud.

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