Chinese People's Liberation Army personnel participate in a military parade at Tiananmen Square in Beijing, on September 3, 2015, to mark the 70th anniversary of victory over Japan and the end of World War II
Beijing (AFP) - It was the best of shows, it was the worst of shows: as 12,000 troops and hundreds of tanks and missiles rolled through Tiananmen Square in front of invited guests and foreign leaders, ordinary Beijing residents were barred from watching.
Barricades were set up hundreds of metres from the parade marking 70 years since Japan's World War II defeat, and squads of police and blue-shirted volunteers blocked access to the deserted streets.
Residents whose homes overlooked the route itself were ordered not to go onto their balconies or even open their windows.
Crowds of around a hundred citizens gathered at intersections to try to catch a glimpse of the hardware as it rolled by in the distance, but were disappointed.
"Of course I'm proud, I'm Chinese," translator Zhao Yufeng told AFP. "But I think more people would feel more involved if we could see the soldiers and tanks."
Instead most watched the live broadcast on mobile phones.
"We've been brainwashed from such a young age to hate Japanese, we call them ghosts, so it's easy for the leadership to justify a massive show of force today," said a man in his 20s surnamed Guo.
But as President Xi Jinping began speaking, he cut the live broadcast and pocketed his smartphone. "He's not going to say anything interesting," he said.
- 'Chinese Dream' -
In the square, Xi presided over events, wearing a simple Mao-style suit, as the chairman of the Communist Party's Central Military Commission, a role that makes him China's commander in chief as the PLA is technically the Party's armed force.
Massed ranks of uniformed choirs sang the anthem of the Anti-Japanese Military and Political University, a wartime Communist party training establishment, and other songs of struggle.
A helicopter trailed a giant Chinese flag and serried ranks of disciplined troops goose-stepped through the square, turning to salute Xi on the rostrum, before hundreds of tanks and armoured vehicles thundered past, followed by scores of missiles and a flypast.
Select flag-waving Chinese, among them colourfully-dressed members of the country's ethnic minorities, watched from the stands.
"I see that our great motherland is so strong," said Cui Xianglai, an ethnic Korean in traditional costume, adding the event displayed "our national and military prestige".
"We believe that under General Secretary Xi Jinping's leadership our Chinese dream will certainly be realised at an early date," she said, parroting his trademark "Chinese dream" slogan.
"Of course the one I most want to see is Uncle Xi," said Li Xiaofei, a parade staffer who had a small Chinese flag painted on her face.
Finally 70,000 doves and the same number of balloons were released, rising into clear blue skies -- from which birds had been cleared.
- Losing money -
Political controls tightened ahead of the parade, and dozens of activists in cities across China were detained, the Hong Kong-based Rights Defence Network said.
Dissident artist Hua Yong, sentenced in 2012 to a year in a labour camp for commemorating the army crackdown on Tiananmen Square protestors, told AFP that police forced him to leave Beijing on Wednesday.
"They don't want me to stay in Beijing. So they sent two cars, and drove 700 kilometres to force me back to my home town."
Others fled the widespread traffic and work restrictions by choice.
Tokyo's upscale Ginza shopping district was jammed with tourists on Thursday, many of them Chinese, who account for more than one quarter of all foreign visitors to Japan.
"Celebrating the victory against Japan and fascism won't improve ties," said one Chinese woman, who declined to give her name. "Chinese people should try to understand the Japanese."
For some, the measures were an expensive imposition.
Wang Xingyu and his wife have a noodle shop close to the parade route and sleep in a room behind the kitchen. They only go home to visit their families in the mountainous northern province of Shaanxi once a year.
They are open seven days a week, but their hard work has been interrupted by the commemorations, which saw them forced to close for two days.
"We're losing money and no one cares about us," Wang said, visibly flustered. "Maybe if we could open, people would come, eat and they could watch the parade on our television.
"Instead, everyone is just standing around here with nothing to do," he added. "And we can't even see anything!"