Letter from China

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The 60th anniversary of the People's Republic has become a nationalistic festival of "ethnic harmony" manufactured to cover massive discontent, reports Hsiao-Hung Pai

When I entered China at the town of Manzhouli the border control officers insisted on a 40-minute search of my luggage. They opened each Word document on my laptop without explanation. Other rail passengers told me this is part of an anti-terrorist security check, primarily against the Uighur "splittists". Should I worry that I don't look Han Chinese enough?

Meanwhile, the language of the state remains "ethnic unity" and "one big family". I've been inhaling the "spirit of the motherland" in every public and private space I enter. "Motherland, you are what makes us. You are our life and our dreams. The name of my national flag, the five-star flag, is greater than my own life." These words are repeated throughout the media.

Soldiers shed tears on the TV screen and children sing of their innocent love for their country. Representatives of the 56 ethnic groups demonstrate their loyalty to the party and "ethnic harmony".

Nationalism dilutes popular discontent over the impact of the global recession. Despite inflated growth figures provided by local authorities, under pressure from the government to keep GDP at 8 percent this year, migrant workers face unemployment, job insecurity and worsening conditions.

The 60th anniversary of the People's Republic is a celebration of the achievements of the Chinese Communist Party - particularly Deng Xiao Ping's market reforms of the past three decades in the name of "socialism with Chinese characteristics". The cost of these celebrations runs to £27.8 million.

"I've no idea about socialism really. I've never read Marx. Anyway, it's up to them how they interpret it," said a migrant worker in Beijing. He's earning the equivalent of £85 per month as a security guard and isn't entitled to a single day's break in a year. "All I know is that our income in the village stays so low that my brothers and I had to leave for the cities to work."

Another migrant from a village near Shenyang came to work in Beijing with 15 others after one jobless villager was driven to suicide. But in Beijing these workers were cheated out of their wages and had their IDs taken by their boss.

"They keep making laws, but they don't implement them," he said. "What's the use of the Labour Contract Law when the government is so soft with the law-breakers?"

Meanwhile, prior to the anniversary celebrations, the country is on high security alert. Tibet is closed to tourists, and counter-terrorist squads police the streets of Urumqi, where the biggest ethnic riot took place in July. The internet has been further censored, and a tedious campaign waged to warn people of ethnic "separatist" needle-attackers on the streets.

In Beijing a curfew was imposed the day before the celebrations and no member of the public was permitted to go near Tiananmen and Chang'an Avenue. An estimated 10,000 police and security guards have been deployed and around 800,000 volunteers are helping out on the streets. Even Beijingers' much-favoured sport, kite flying, has been banned.

On 1 October roads in the city centre were closed. While "every child of the motherland" has the duty to "devote unconditional love to the nation", no ordinary citizen was allowed to participate. Only 20,000 special guests were invited to Tiananmen Square. The "civil parade" featured floats representing 34 provinces, including Taiwan (without the knowledge of Taiwan's people). The media acted as the party's event organisers, chanting, "What does ethnic cohesiveness feel like? It's like a child returning home!"

For China's rulers, this is not a time to remember the role of the peasantry in the revolution - rural petitioners are banned from the capital. This is an occasion for displaying China's military might. The People's Liberation Army demonstrated new weapons systems around Tiananmen Square, where they killed so many protesters in 1989.

Shouted loud and clear from the Square came the words, "Motherland, Motherland! Millions and millions of years to Motherland China!"