In many ways, China is the quintessential 21st century power. Over 600 million of its people use the Internet on a regular basis with Sina Weibo logging more than 76 million daily users in the past year. It is at the center of global production chains as its increasingly sophisticated workforce puts together everything from cars to smartphones that are shipped all over the world.

Even though its economy is slowing it remains the most dynamic large economy in the world, and as the cityscapes of Beijing, Shanghai and Chongqing attest, it is home to some of the most exciting and innovative architecture in the world. Ai Wei Wei, possibly the most recognized contemporary artist in the world today, is only the most prominent member of a dynamic and controversial art scene.

Yet if you happened to be in Beijing on Sept. 3, one would be forgiven for thinking China was stuck in a time warp. To mark the 70th anniversary of World War II's end, the city hosted the third-largest military parade in the country's history. With its martial music, goose-stepping women's battalions and cutting-edge weapons systems, including the first public display of the DF-21 missile designed to sink a U.S. aircraft carrier, Beijing unwittingly displayed a China fixated on the past with palpable insecurities about itself and its place in the world.