Chinese president Xi Jinping paid his respects at the tomb of late supreme leader Mao Zedong on Monday, on the eve of massive celebrations of the ruling Chinese Communist Party's 70th anniversary in power and amid tight controls on movement and expression.
Xi and other leaders of the ruling party bowed three times in front of Mao's statue at his mausoleum on Beijing's iconic Tiananmen Square, and later visited the late Chairman's embalmed remains ahead of the 70th anniversary of Mao's founding of the People's Republic of China on Oct. 1.
Since Xi took the helm of the party in 2012, he has consolidated power in the post of president, abolishing term limits and reviving the veneration of Communist Party heroes and martyrs, bringing in legislation banning any irreverence shown to their images or stories.
Institutions around the country have scrambled to demonstrate loyalty to Xi, now designated "core leader," funding research centers to study his personal brand of political ideology, while individuals are increasingly encouraged to use an app that tests users' knowledge of the president's ideas in return for points scored.
Sept. 30 was designated Martyr's Day five years ago, and Xi led a group of more than 4,000 military veterans and retired leaders, including "relatives of martyrs, honorees of national medals and honorary titles," and members of the party's youth organization, who laid flowers and wreaths at for Mao and for the heroes of the communist revolution.
Tuesday will likely see Xi preside over a massive parade and military display showcasing China's economic and military strength from the podium of Tiananmen Gate, the exact spot where Mao proclaimed the new People's Republic of China in 1949.
Some 15,000 troops, 160 aircraft and 580 pieces of military equipment are expected to file past him.
Veteran Beijing journalist Li Xinde said Xi's veneration of Mao is totally in keeping with his own ideology and political style.
"Mao Zedong is the founder of the People's Republic of China ... who gradually brought China to where it is today," Li said. "As the current leader of the party and the country, Xi Jinping must pursue a top-down ideological unity."
Previous leaders, including Deng Xiaoping, Hu Yaobang, Jiang Zemin, and Hu Jintao, have paid their respects to Mao on his birthday, but not usually at the National Day celebrations.
Xi last visited Mao's memorial on the late chairman's birthday and 120th anniversary on Dec. 26, 2013.
Beijing has also presided over a massive, nationwide security operation ahead of the parade, encouraging or forcing dissidents, petitioners and rights activists to leave the city and stay away for the duration of the sensitive anniversary. A massive army of Internet censors are at the ready to scrub China's tightly controlled web of sensitive comments and words.
You Weijie, spokeswoman for the Tiananmen Mothers group representing the victims of the 1989 Tiananmen massacre, said many of the group's members, including veteran campaigner Ding Zilin, are currently under close police surveillance and are unable to move around freely or contact the outside world.
"The 70th anniversary sounds like a paean of praise, but there is no mention of the tragic events of June 4, 1989, that inflicted such harm on their own people," You said. "It's as if it never even happened."
"Of course we are full of sadness, because we have suffered so much as a result of [the massacre]," she said.
Tiananmen Mothers member Zhang Xianling, who lost her son in the massacre, said she wasn't under guard, but was likely being monitored remotely.
"There are some phone calls that haven't gotten through," Zhang told RFA on Monday. "If you call my cell phone it gets cut off ... and I can't hear anything."
She said she is paying scant heed to the Oct. 1 parade. "I don't care about it," Zhang said. "It's all just for show, but I know better than anyone [what this country is like] and I'm not impressed one bit."
Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by the Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.