BEIJING - Beijing virtually closed its downtown Tuesday, shuttering the Forbidden City along with shops and hotels near Tiananmen Square, in preparation for an extravaganza to mark 60 years of communist rule that is expected to rival the Olympic opening ceremony.
Primarily a chance to showcase the country's might with a massive military parade, the celebrations are also to include a "civilian parade" with about 100,000 people taking part and 60 floats. Tens of thousands of doves, 5,000 balloon-toting children and a chorus of thousands are to be part of the show, the official Xinhua News Agency said.
Rehearsals in the past few weeks have included jets and helicopters flying in formation over the city, releasing streams of red, blue and yellow smoke as they pass by.
Few other details have been given on the schedule for the celebrations, but a keynote address from President Hu Jintao is expected, followed by the two parades. Chinese filmmaker Zhang Yimou, who directed the opening and closing ceremonies for the Beijing Olympics, will oversee the evening fireworks display.
Many Chinese are justifiably proud of what China has achieved since the People's Republic was founded in 1949 - a transformation from an impoverished, war-wracked country to an economic and diplomatic power. Life expectancy has risen from 41 years in 1949 to 73 today. Incomes have soared, even as the population has more than doubled from 500 million to 1.3 billion. In just the last 30 years, GDP per capita has grown tenfold from $200.
An editorial in the English-language China Daily state newspaper promised that Thursday's celebrations would be the "most spectacular in our history."
China has been ramping up security over the past few weeks ahead of the holiday, even banning the sale of knives at some stores including large retailers such as Wal-Mart and Carrefour. City residents have been barred from flying kites as a precaution against aerial hazards, and those who live in the diplomatic apartments that line the parade route have been told not open their windows or go out on their balconies to watch.
Authorities plan to ground flights into and out of Beijing for three hours during the parade on Oct. 1, according to state media, restrictions similar to ones put in place for last year's Beijing Olympics.
On Tuesday, many tourist spots, hotels, restaurants and shops in downtown Beijing closed. The Forbidden City and the Great Hall of the People were shut along with many businesses located on Chang An, the major boulevard that runs east-west through the city, including the Raffles and Beijing hotels, supermarkets, Starbucks coffee shops, tiny mom-and-pop noodle stalls and tourist boutiques.
Armed pairs of helmeted SWAT police stood guard beside armoured vehicles at many intersections along Chnag An, while underground, subway riders passed through metal detectors and had their bags scanned.
Some visitors grumbled about the inconveniences.
Daniel Stevens, a British tourist, said he booked a downtown Beijing youth hostel online only to find out after his arrival that it will be closed for most of his visit. On Tiananmen Square, he said he was disappointed that he had to move hotels and that many of the museums he hoped to see were also closed.
"We knew there was a national holiday and national celebrations," Stevens said. "We did not realize the whole city would be closed down quite this much."
Tiananmen Square itself and a few other popular tourist spots, including the Silk Street Shopping Mall, remained open but were to close Wednesday.
At the north end of the square, dozens of staff in purple uniforms helped set up chairs for the invite-only event. The spectacle is to be broadcast live on television for the public to see.
"I participate, I contribute, thus I feel honoured," said Zhang Xiaojing, one of those setting up the seats. "I wish wealth and prosperity for our great motherland."