BEIJING - China celebrated its ascendance with a show of goose-stepping troops, gaudy floats and nuclear-capable missiles in the nation's capital on Thursday, 60 years after Mao Zedong proclaimed its embrace of communism.

Thousands of troops cleared central Beijing of all passers-by for the anniversary parade for the birth of the People's Republic of China on October 1, 1949, and the central Tiananmen Square was turned into a high-tech stage to display the ruling Communist Party's achievements before invited guests.

Troops marked the start of celebrations in the morning by firing cannons and raising the red national flag, watched by President Hu Jintao, standing in a slate grey traditional Mao suit on the Gate of Heavenly Peace over the Square.

He descended to the street and inspected rows of troops, riding past them in a black limousine and bellowing repeatedly, Hello comrades, hard-working comrades!

From here it was that Chairman Mao solemnly announced the founding of the People's Republic of China, and from then the Chinese people stood up, Hu told assembled guests and troops.

Today a socialist China embracing modernization, embracing the world and embracing the future stands lofty and firm.

The parade of 8,000 picture-perfect soldiers, tanks and missiles, 60 elaborate floats, and 100,000 well-drilled civilians was a proud moment for many Chinese citizens, watching the spectacle across the country on television.

I am very proud of the military today. You can see we are getting stronger and stronger as a nation, Qiu Chengjie, a 25-year-old businessman from southern Guangdong province.

President Hu also wants the day of extraordinary spectacle and security to make the case that its formula of one-party rule and rapid growth remains the right one for hauling the world's third-biggest economy into prosperity, ruling 1.3 billion people and elevating China into a superpower.

The soldiers goose-stepping past Tiananmen Square at exactly 116 steps a minute carried the message that this Party knows how to run a show -- and a huge, restive country.


The parade was also a chance for Beijing to flex its military muscle, with a flyover and show of weapons, including rows of what state TV said were Dongfeng 31 missiles, capable of carrying nuclear warheads over 10,000 km (5,400 miles).

But the overwhelming security controls also highlighted a key paradox of present-day China. The government claims it has never been stronger and closer to its people, yet appears afraid of even small incidents that could tarnish its authority.

It's not really for us ordinary people, is it? said Wang Chenggong, a migrant worker from impoverished central Henan province trying to watch a TV in a crowded streetside stall.

After the military parade, floats lauding China's history, achievements and different regions passed through along the Avenue of Eternal Peace, accompanied by marching, dancing crowds.

They included a farm produce float with two model cows; one showing China's space program with a lunar orbiter; and an Olympic Games display with a model of the Bird's Nest stadium.

Neat rows of marchers waving pompoms also accompanied huge mobile portraits of China's successive Communist Party leaders, ending with President Hu, appearing strikingly slim and youthful.

But even as the displays celebrated the People's Republic, police made it impossible for residents to see the parade.

Even those living on the parade route were banned from peeking out their windows. Flights into Beijing were stopped during the parade and even kites and pet pigeons grounded.

Go home! Leave now! Go watch TV at home! a portly policeman bellowed through a bullhorn at a crowd trying to gather miles from the square.

(Additional reporting by Yu Le and Emma Graham-Harrison; Writing by Chris Buckley; Editing by Benjamin Kang Lim and Jerry Norton)