Beijing is battening down the hatches and cranking up the propaganda ahead of a massive military parade this week to mark the end of World War Two, shooing cars from streets and shutting factories for the Communist Party’s biggest event of the year.
Some 12,000 soldiers will march through Beijing’s central Tiananmen Square on Thursday, mostly Chinese but with Russian and a few other foreign contingents, accompanied by tanks and armoured vehicles, as fighter jets scream overhead.
President Xi Jinping will be joined on the podium by leaders including Russian President Vladimir Putin, Sudan President Omar Hassan al-Bashir and Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro.
Almost all top Western leaders are staying away, alarmed by the apparent jingoism and worried by the message a Chinese show of force will send a world worried by China’s military ambitions.
The city is taking extraordinary measures to ensure nothing goes awry, including restricting car use and closing factories hundreds of kilometres (miles) from Beijing to ensure the city’s notorious smog is banished to make way for “parade blue”, as some have dubbed the clear skies in the run-up to the event.
To ensure security, model aircraft have been banned from sale, people who live along the parade route warned not to even look out their windows on the day and the city’s two main airports will be closed on Thursday morning.
It’s also all happening at a time of uncertainty for China over its economic growth, turmoil in its stock markets and the death of at least 145 people at a chemical warehouse blast this month in the nearby city of Tianjin.
“It’s like treading on thin ice,” a source with ties to the leadership said when asked to sum up the nation’s mood ahead of the parade, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Not aimed at “today’s Japan”
Sino-Japan relations have long been affected by what China sees as Japan’s failure to atone for its occupation of parts of China before and during the war. Western and Chinese historians estimate millions of Chinese civilians were killed.
Chinese Defence Ministry spokesman Yang Yujun said last week that holding the parade had no “direct connection” with the current state of Sino-Japan relations, and repeated the standard line it was primarily to remember the fallen and cherish peace.
“The parade is not aimed at any particular country, is not aimed at today’s Japan, and is certainly not aimed at the Japanese people,” Yang told a news briefing.
But state media in a country that never misses an opportunity to remind the world of the horrors visited upon China by Japan during the war, has been ramping up its output.
The official Xinhua news agency has published graphic details of Japanese war criminals’ crimes, including one field medic who “watched another soldier inject water into the stomach of a Chinese prisoner and then broil him by fire”.
Pictures of Japanese atrocities have also appeared on party propaganda posters springing up over the city.
It’s particularly worrying for Japanese living in China, who have fresh memories of violent street protests that erupted across the country in 2012 over a territorial dispute between the two governments.
While there are little signs of a flare-up in such anti-Japan sentiment this time, some residents say they aren’t taking any chances.
Keiko Nakamura, a Japanese translator living in Shanghai, won’t venture out on Thursday because of fears her nationality could make her a target of violence.
“I’ll be staying home and will be telling my kids to not speak Japanese on taxis or in public,” said Nakamura, a 45-year-old mother of two who has been in Shanghai for nine years.
Asked about such fears, China’s foreign ministry said in a statement sent to Reuters that the government “protects the legitimate rights of foreigners living in China in accordance with the law”.