Friday, October 02, 2009

The Image of China

The Times and the Post both feature the same picture on their front page, above the fold: an image of Chinese sailors marching in the parades commemorating the 60th anniversary of the establishment of the Chinese People's Republic.(Here's the slide show, I think the photo was different than slide 3, but same subject.  See this video of other images via The Best Defense.)  It's striking partially because it's overexposed, so the white trousers of the sailors blend together.

It's also striking to me as a former civilian in the military by how well dressed the lines are.  For those who never had the duty of serving, "dress right, dress" is the command sergeants use to tell their troops to align on the person to the right.  If everyone aligns well, you get a straight line of troops.  The military components of the ceremony must have spent days and months of dressing right.

The other striking thing also plays off the symmetry and geometry on display: the uniformity of the troops.  Not just the spotless uniforms, but everyone is the same height and weight, give or take a couple pounds and an inch.  That's what 5,000 years of history as a relatively common culture will do.  Supposed 9 of 10 Chinese citizens are of Han descent.  Even in the other photos in the Times slide show there's great uniformity: the leaders are male and roughly the same height and weight.  Even when I reflect back, remembering a photo from early in the Bush II years, of a signing ceremony (maybe tax cuts) where it was striking the uniformity of white male faces, you'd never get that uniformity in the U.S.

While I'm sure the commanders of the ceremonial troops look for uniformity--if I recall, the members of the ceremonial Old Guard at Arlington cemetery have height and weight restrictions--the difference between the two societies is still notable.  But there is one photo in the slide show showing Chinese civilians watching the ceremonies.  In my youth, even my middle age, they would have been dressed the same.  But no more.  There's still an impression of physical sameness, but dress and grooming are now individual.

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