China will celebrate 60 years of communist rule on Thursday with lavish festivities showcasing the Asian giant's dramatic transformation from global pariah to diplomatic, economic and military power.
The Communist Party, firmly in control since the founding of the People's Republic on October 1, 1949, will seize the moment to glorify its achievements and promote national unity at a time when social and ethnic unrest is mounting.
The celebrations will highlight China's path from near-isolation when Mao Zedong addressed the masses at Tiananmen Square, to success as the world's third largest economy, 30 years after Deng Xiaoping opened the door to capitalism.
The People's Liberation Army, the world's largest with 2.3 million soldiers, has for a year prepared for Thursday's parade, a once-a-decade event that will be scrutinised by foreign armies concerned about Beijing's military buildup.
General Gao Jianguo, a military spokesman, said the PLA would "maintain its glorious tradition of frugality," but the costly display of hardware, likely to include new intercontinental ballistic missiles, will be a huge show of force.
More than 50 new and "100 percent China-made" weapons, including missiles, high-tech radar and other support systems will be on offer - a symbol of the "quantum leap" Beijing says it has taken in boosting its capabilities.
"This is meant to show the world that China can indeed back up its increasing diplomatic and economic power," Arthur Ding, a PLA expert at National Chengchi University in Taiwan, told AFP.
But the National Day parade -- to be staged under the tightest security ever deployed in the capital -- is far more than a military hardware exhibition.
A human tide of 200,000 people will flood the parade route, along with 8,000 vehicles, to tell the story of modern China's 60-year history.
About 100,000 students and workers have been recruited to take part in mass song and dance performances or ride along Chang'an Avenue aboard colourful floats depicting the country's many successes.
And state media has said the evening's fireworks display will be the biggest the world has ever seen.
At Tiananmen Square, where President Hu Jintao will make a keynote speech, 56 massive columns in red and gold have been set up to represent the dozens of ethnic groups in a country rattled by deadly violence in Tibet and Xinjiang.
The party now sees the situation of ethnic minorities as a "burning issue", according to Jean-Philippe Beja, an expert at the French Centre for the Study of Modern China in Hong Kong.
The October 1 celebrations, while sparking a surge in patriotic pride for Beijing's 17 million residents, have also created a logistical nightmare.
Thousands of extra police have been deployed on the streets of the capital -- more than were mobilised for last year's Beijing Olympics - to ensure that nothing goes wrong on Thursday, and flights will be grounded during the parade.
The numerous dress rehearsals staged by authorities virtually paralysed the city, with entire neighbourhoods closed to traffic for hours at a time, underground rail lines shut down and hotels, businesses and schools closed.
Kites have been banned, and knives are no longer available in city shops after two stabbing incidents in a tourist area near Tiananmen Square rattled authorities. City workers have tried to clear the plaza of bugs and pests.
Even rain and fog have been barred. China's air force will deploy aircraft to spray cloud dispersal chemicals and "fog dispersal vehicles" will be used to ensure blue skies and dry conditions for National Day.
Workers have spent weeks decorating the city with mountains of flowers, but most Beijingers, rather than celebrate in the streets, will be at home watching on their televisions, which for weeks have been spewing out programmes glorifying the nation.
Local cinema screens are being dominated by one film -- "Jianguo Daye" (The Founding of a Republic), a sweeping epic featuring top stars like Zhang Ziyi and Jackie Chan, who worked for free to promote National Day.
Amidst the patriotic fervour, local media and university experts have not been authorised to debate the deadly legacy of Mao's Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution, or the subsequent repression of all dissident thought.
"All discussion about who Mao was and what these 60 years have been about is being shrugged off," said Beja.
"There is no debate -- China is on the way to becoming a powerful and prosperous country, full stop."