Hosts and guests on Tian'anmen Rostrum are record of changing China

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The gaze of China will fall on Tian'anmen Rostrum again when President Hu Jintao Thursday morning reviews hundreds of thousands of joyous National Day paraders, in an atmosphere similar to what it was six decades ago.

The rostrum, the front gate of the former Imperial Palace, has witnessed many significant moments, joyful and tearful, in the past 60 years. One moment made it symbolic in modern times - Chairman Mao Zedong proclaimed on the rostrum the founding of the People' s Republic of China (PRC) on Oct. 1, 1949.

In the six-decade history of the PRC, almost every major state leader has watched the National Day celebrations from Tian'anmen Rostrum, facing south to Tian'anmen Square and the west-east Chang'an Avenue.

The gate tower welcomed the founding father Mao (1893-1976), who steered the country from 1949 to 1976, on every Oct. 1 from 1949 to 1959 when thousands of soldiers and civilians paraded past the gate.

Some foreigners stood with Mao to watch them and several watched more than once. With only rare exceptions, most elite guests were from the same socialist camp as the PRC.

Nikita Khrushchev (1894-1971), the Soviet leader from 1953 to 1964, attended Chinese National Day celebrations twice, in 1954 and 1959 respectively, standing side by side with Mao Zedong on Tian'anmen Rostrum and Kim Il-sung (1912-1994), top leader of the Democratic People' s Republic of Korea.

In 1959, Vietnamese Communist leader Ho Chi Minh joined both Khrushchev and Kim to see the Chinese National Day parade.

Despite a happy socialist gathering on Tian'anmen Rostrum that year, China and the Soviet Union were not in the same happy mood. A year later, the Soviet Union called back all experts and technicians it had sent to help with China's economic development because of sharp ideological disputes and divergence on security concerns.

After 1959, the country did not hold any National Day military parade for 25 years. But on Oct. 1, 1970, a foreign guest mounted Tian'anmen Rostrum with Mao. He was remarkable for being the first U.S. citizen on the building in PRC history and an early signal of possible detente between East and West.

The surprise guest was Edgar Snow (1905-1972), a U.S. journalist who wrote the book "Red Star over China," first published in 1937. The book introduced the Communist Party of China to the outside world.

As an archived photo showed, Snow stood on Mao' s right and his wife on the left, on the Tian'anmen balcony. Sixteen months later, U.S. President Richard Nixon made his ice-breaking China visit.

The National Day military parade and mass pageant were held again in 1984 when the country was beginning another dramatic change.

This time the host on Tian'anmen was Deng Xiaoping (1904-1997), an energetic leader who orchestrated the country' s reform and opening-up from 1978, bringing the country decades of fast economic growth and great social changes ever since.

That year' s guest list was a combined pool of old and new friends. Prince Norodom Sihanouk of Cambodia and his wife Norodom Monineath Sihanouk were on Tian'anmen. They were long-term friends of Chinese leaders from the 1950s.

Together with the Cambodian royal family were Juan Antonio Samaranch, then president of the International Olympic Committee, and his wife. In the summer of that year, the PRC sent a large group of athletes to the Los Angeles Olympic Games.

Another 15 years passed. When the country' s armed forces and civilians were reviewed by then Chinese President Jiang Zemin (now 83) in 1999, the country was preparing a full participation in the globalization.

Hong Kong, which had long acted as a bridge between the PRC and the outside world, was now part of the PRC. Tung Chee-hwa, first chief executive of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, was among senior Chinese officials on the rostrum.

Two years later, China joined the World Trade Organization (WTO). Nine years later, it hosted the Summer Olympic Games.

On the evening of Aug. 8, 2008, the Tian'anmen Rostrum temporarily ceded its position as the center stage to the National Stadium, or Bird's Nest, where foreign state leaders and government heads gathered, including then U.S. President George W. Bush and his former president father, as well as Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

Since 1999, no big foreign name has been on the guest list for the Tian'anmen Rostrum.

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