Beijing: China today observed its first Martyrs' Day, a commemorative event aimed to inculcate patriotism among new generations, on the eve of the Communist giant's 65th National day.
The day also aims to remind Chinese people about the country's often violent and chequered history since the opium war in 1840.
Martyrs' day, marked with a solemn ceremony at the Monument to the People's Heroes in Beijing's Tiananmen Square, was attended by Chinese President Xi Jinping, Premier Li Keqiang and other top leaders.
Following a patriotic chorus by the children and a period in which the crowd bowed their heads in silent tribute, nine baskets of lilies were laid in front of the monument.
Xi led a group of senior officials on a walk of tribute around the monument.
The ceremony was telecast live across the country. China will be shut for a week from tomorrow for National Day holidays.
This is the first time that China observed a commemorative event for those who sacrificed lives since the first opium war with the British in 1840, including the Kuomintang soldiers who died during the second Sino-Japanese war.
China's Parliament, the National People's Congress designated September 30 as Martyrs' Day this year amid increasing tensions with Japan over the disputed islands in the East China Sea.
It is estimated that China has about 20 million martyrs. However, only 1.93 million of them have been named in the government's directory, the rest could not be identified.
The number has been increasing by about 300 annually in recent years, the state-run Xinhua news agency reported.
Among them, many were soldiers, revolutionaries, early communist leaders and even ordinary Chinese who sacrificed their lives for the common good, it said.
To mark the day, ceremonies were held all over China.
A national memorial day is an effective attempt to shape collective memory and forge a common morality in the country, Professor Xie Chuntao, with the Party School of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee was quoted by Xinhua as saying.
"Families of the martyrs will definitely take comfort from a more high-profile commemoration. More importantly, it shows everyone who and what deeds are valued and honoured by this country," Xie said.