Monday, September 27, 1999 Published at 15:51 GMT 16:51 UK
China's big party
A commemorative dragon for 50 years of Communist Party rule
By the BBC's Chinese Affairs Analyst James Miles
To the country's leadership, the 50th anniversary of the communist nation's founding on 1 October is an occasion of tremendous political importance, and all the stops are being pulled out in readiness for the event.
This occasion is of particular significance for the 73-year-old president, Jiang Zemin.
It is as crucial an affirmation of Mr Jiang's political stature as the National Day celebrations of 1984 were for China's then paramount leader Deng Xiaoping.
Comparisons with Deng
President Jiang is no doubt eager for comparisons to be drawn between himself and the late Mr Deng.
He had swept aside remnant Maoists in the leadership. He had launched far-reaching and widely-acclaimed economic reforms in the countryside.
And he had reached a deal with Britain on the handover of Hong Kong.
The military parade on 1 October that year was his way of showing the nation that he was confident and in charge.
Mr Jiang wants to deliver the same message.
He presided over the handover of Hong Kong.
He re-established top-level exchanges with the United States that had been suspended since Tiananmen.
He has crushed domestic political opposition while continuing to push China towards the establishment of an open, capitalist-oriented economy.
When Mr Jiang reviews the troops on 1 October, he will hope to demonstrate to the world and to his own people that he is far from the man many thought him to be when he was catapulted into the party's top post following the Tiananmen protests.
Many observers then were astonished that a man with so little experience in the Politburo and with no military background could be chosen by Mr Deng and his fellow veterans to lead such a factious party.
Nevertheless, Mr Jiang will have difficulty projecting the same image of confident, stable leadership that Mr Deng was able to convey during the 1984 celebrations.
Despite his political achievements in the last decade, Mr Jiang has shown signs in recent months of hesitation and uncertainty in the face of a series of unexpected crises.
These have ranged from the surrounding of the party headquarters in April by thousands of members of a mystical sect to the Nato bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade in May and Taiwan's declaration in July that it wanted to be treated by China as a separate state, not a rebel province.
Failures and goals
Unlike in 1984, when China's economy was on an upswing, the economic picture today looks bleak.
Growth is slowing, deflation is pushing large numbers of firms towards bankruptcy, unemployment is soaring and citizens are fearful of spending because of the growing cost of health care, education and housing.
Yet the bigger goal for China's communist leaders - that of regaining Taiwan - appears even more elusive now than it did when Mr Deng came to power 20 years ago.
The menacing war games China staged in the Taiwan Strait in 1996 failed to deter the island's president, Lee Teng-hui, from delivering his powerful snub to Beijing with his remarks on the island's statehood in July.
On National Day itself, Mr Jiang will no doubt project his usual ebullient image.
But in the next two or three years, he faces difficult times politically as he prepares to hand over at least some of his power to a younger leadership.
In 2003 he is constitutionally obliged to step down as president.
Doubtless there will be some in the party who will argue that given his age, he should also give up his other jobs as party and military chief.
The party's 16th congress in 2002 would be an obvious occasion to do that.
Mr Jiang has reportedly hinted to Japanese visitors this year that while he will give up the presidency, he might keep his other posts.
Although he will want to use the occasion of National Day to suggest that a fast-changing China is stepping vigorously into the 21st century, Mr Jiang apparently does not intend to suggest that his own role in the country's evolution will change any time soon.