The older generation that dedicated their lives to the development of New China may rest in peace, President Xi Jinping said on Tuesday, as "the great cause they pioneered is moving forward, and the history they started is being carried forward".
Xi pledged to stick to reform and development at a reception to mark the 65th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China, which falls on Wednesday.
On Tuesday, Xi and the other six members of the Political Bureau Standing Committee, China's top decision-making body, paid tribute and offered flowers at the Monument to the People's Heroes in Tian'anmen Square to mark China's first Martyrs' Day.
Commemorative activities were held in Chinese cities to mark the day, according to Xinhua News Agency.
Some 1,300 people paid tribute during a ceremony on Tuesday morning at the Tower for Revolutionary Heroes in Jinan, Shandong province. Shandong boasts around 300,000 martyrs, more than any other Chinese province.
Martyrs, as defined by the government, are people who sacrificed their lives for national independence and prosperity, as well as the welfare of the people in modern times.
It is estimated that China has about 20 million martyrs. However, only 1.93 million have been named in the government's directory, while the rest could not be identified. The number has been increasing by about 300 annually in recent years.
China's top legislature set Sept 30 as Martyrs' Day in August.
Observers said Martyrs' Day would encourage the Chinese people to contribute to the country's renewal.
Xie Chuntao, a professor with the Party School of the CPC Central Committee, said that a national memorial day is an effective attempt to forge a common morality in the country, and "it shows everyone who and what deeds are valued and honoured by this country".
At the reception to commemorate the 65th anniversary of the People's Republic, Xi also said China must adhere to reform.
"To crack the difficult problems facing China's development and defuse risks and challenges from various sides, we have no alternative but to deepen reform," Xi said at the reception with more than 3,000 participants.