Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) women soldiers march past Tiananmen Square during the National Day parade in Beijing. Click for more photos

Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) women soldiers march past Tiananmen Square during the National Day parade in Beijing. Photo: AFP

China today celebrated 60 years of communist rule with a military parade and lavish ceremonies on Beijing's Tiananmen Square showcasing the nation's revival as a global power.

Thousands of troops marched in tight formations, fighter jets overflew the city and the world's largest military unveiled its most sophisticated weaponry including new intercontinental ballistic missiles in a patriotic show of force.

President Hu Jintao extolled the Communist Party-led rebirth in a speech to the invitation-only crowd from Tiananmen gate, where Mao Zedong proclaimed the founding of the People's Republic on October 1, 1949.

"The development and progress of the new China over the past 60 years fully proved that only socialism can save China, and only reform and opening up can ensure the development of China, socialism and Marxism," Hu told the crowd.

China typically holds grand celebrations every 10 years to commemorate Mao's announcement, but authorities promised that this year's festivities would top those staged in the past -- and outdo last year's Olympic opening ceremony.

The government wants to send a clear message: that China, the world's third-largest economy, has re-emerged as a proud and undeniable global force.

Hu, in a high-collared Mao-style tunic, underlined this confidence in his speech before a Tiananmen Square festooned in the nation's red and yellow.

"Today a socialist China that faces the future is standing tall and firm in the East," he declared.

An estimated 200,000 people took part in the lavish morning festivities, which unfolded under clear blue skies.

Flexing its growing muscle, China paraded long-range nuclear missiles capable of striking the heart of the United States and other homegrown weaponry signaling that a nation once bullied by foreign powers is a pushover no more.

The military show was followed by a colourful parade, with tens of thousands of people marching and singing in unison in a display of China's ability to harness its vast manpower on a massive scale.

Besides goose-stepping troops, squads of pink-clad women "volunteers" dubbed the "iron roses" marched in go-go boots, while thousands of other participants marched while waving flowing fans, pom-poms and bouquets of flowers.

National sports heroes such as hurdler Liu Xiang and former Olympic gymnastics champion Li Ning rode on one of dozens of brightly decorated floats.

Giant portraits of China's leaders from Mao to Hu were paraded past the square, which was filled with 80,000 children flipping hand-held cards spelling out messages such as "Socialism is Good" and "Long Live China."

Despite the burst of pride, official insecurity also has been clearly on display -- authorities have imposed draconian security in a bid to prevent an array of perceived threats from spoiling the party.

These include seething tensions in ethnic minority regions such as Xinjiang and Tibet, and widespread social discontent over a widening wealth gap, official corruption and environmental degradation.

As a result, most of Beijing's 17 million citizens were relegated to watching the pageant in their hometown on television like the rest of China.

Lu Haishi, 23, travelled all the way from Shanghai to watch the festivities with friends -- on TV.

"I came to Beijing for the National Day from Shanghai for the atmosphere. We've rented a room to see the parade on television in a hotel near the route, to get the atmosphere," he said.

Police have for weeks stepped up security checks, cleared out beggars and the homeless, and ordered residents along the parade route not to open windows during the parade.

Even the city's airport shut for three hours during the parade and knife sales were banned in some stores after two recent stabbings near Tiananmen Square.

The Mao-led 1949 communist takeover ended years of foreign domination and war, while three decades of economic reforms initiated by late leader Deng Xiaoping enriched China and propelled it back into the ranks of world powers.

State media had said aircraft could release cloud-dispersal chemicals to prevent rain spoiling the festivities -- and skies were clear for the parade after light rain the night before.

It was not immediately clear if the fine weather was man-made, but state media reported last year that authorities induced rain to wring out the clouds in the run-up to the opening ceremony for the Beijing Olympics.