In a short, solemn ceremony in central Beijing on Tuesday, China’s top political leaders and a backdrop of 3,000 handpicked extras inaugurated the country’s newest national holiday —Martyrs’ Day.
Led by President Xi Jinping and the other six members of the Politburo Standing Committee, the 15-minute event was meant to draw attention to those who sacrificed for China’s freedom from foreign aggression.
The event was centered on the Monument to the People’s Heroes in Tiananmen Square. The national anthem was sung. A choir of Young Pioneers — the Communist Party’s children’s organization, akin to Boy Scouts or Girl Guides — sang a song in the party’s honor.
Then, as orders were barked out, an honor guard goose-stepped forward and grasped several large wicker baskets of flowers. Then they goose-stepped slowly up the steps of the monument, placed the baskets, spun around and marched away.
Mr. Xi and the other leaders walked up and looked at the flowers. Mr. Xi stepped forward and straightened several ribbons that explained which government ministries had donated the flowers. Then he stepped back, and the group of seven looked at the flowers for another moment.
The seven men then circled the monument, with some members looking intently at the socialist-realist friezes of soldiers fighting off invaders. Others stared off into space. Then they walked off.
Shortly afterward, the 3,000 other people followed them in circling the enormous obelisk. Most carried yellow chrysanthemums, which they placed before the monument.
The event was carried live on national television. On the English-language service of China Central Television, Wang Xuewen, a political analyst, said that “a nation without outstanding martyrs is a collection of mediocre individuals.”
Xinhua, the state news agency, reported that China has an estimated 20 million martyrs. Only 1.93 million, however, have been identified.