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Chinese Culture >> Chinese Society Traditions >> Tiananmen Square

Tiananmen Square

This is the Eye of China,the focus of the nation.In the 20th century,it truly became the middle of the Middle Kingdom.In the 21st century many believe it will become the symbolic center of the Asia Pacific,perhaps even of the world.

Most foreigners recognize Tiananmen instantly as the stage for the democratic movement that culminated in the events of June 4,1989.Tiananmen Square had been the focal point of earlier movements as well,and officials are no doubt hopeful that its image worldwide has been softened by such recent events as the national celebrations for the return of Hong Kong to Chinese sovereignty on July 1,1997,and the 50th anniversary of the birth of the People's Republic, held here on October 1 ,1999.Tiananmen Square was renovated in 1999,its cement blocks replaced by 1.7 million square feet of pink granite and some sections of green lawn,along with 4,535 lamps and a legion of blue trash cans.Chewing gum is now prohibited on the plaza.This is the largest public square in the world,as befits the most populous nation in the world. Every paving block of the square is numbered,partly so that a standing spot can be assigned to each person who attends one of China's great public forums.

Striking out across this wide expanse gives visitors the chance to orient themselves to monuments on every horizon,allowing the immensity of the place to become a microcosm for the immensity of China.On the north side is the Gate of Heavenly Peace,a viewing stand where Mao proclaimed in 1949 that China had stood up on the world stage .His portrait is on the gate,easily visible from the square..Under it is the entrance to the Forbidden City,the palaces of the former emperors.

The avenue between Tiananmen Square and the Gate of Heavenly Peace is Changan,the capital's main thoroughfare.It was widened as was the square itself,in a massive public works program initiated by the new ruler,Mao Zedong,beginning in 1950.The city walls also came down .Opposite Changan Avenue and the Gate ,on the south side of Tianmen Square, is a monumental remant of the city walls Qianmen Gate ,built in the 15th century as the southern entrance to the imperial city within Beijing,its two massive stone arches easily visible from inside the square.Straight south from the gate along the old Imperial Way is the Temple of Heaven,where the Ming and Qing emperors ande annual sactifices to Heaven.

On the east side,Tiananmen Square is bordered by the Museum of Chinese History and the Museum of the Revolution.On the west side is the Great Hall of the People, China's national hall of Congress,where the world's envoys meet China's leaders .Both these architectural giants are open to visitors,but both are a bit dull.

The Monument ot the People's Heroes is in the center of the square .This granite obelisk was erected in 1958 to honor soldiers,farmers,and other patriots who became martyrs to the Communist Revolution.Ironically, it became the focal point of the martyrs to the democratic student movement in 1989.Bullet holes and other blemishes from that night have been removed,surveillance cameras remain on surrounding poles,and the marble platform can seem a haunted place even now.

From Tiananmen Square all roads radiate out, north to the Forbidden City,south to the Temple Of Heaven, northeast to downtown shopping and the diplomatic missions,and northwest to the summer palaces.Tiananmen Square is open dawn to dusk daily.Admission is free.

Chairman Mao's Mausoleum

In the center of Tiananmen Square,aligned with the north-south axis that runs through the Forbidden City to the Temple of Heaven,is the Chairman Mao Memorial Hall(Mao Zhuxi Jinian Bei).It was completed in 1977,the year after Mao's death . You can join the long line outside,facing south,facing south,for a 60-second look at Mao lying in state in a crystal sarcophagus.He rests on a black granite slab from Moun Tai.,recalling one of Mao's favorite quotations from China's Grand Historian: "Although deat befalls all men alike, in significance it may be weightier than Mount Tai or lighter than a swan's down."Every evening Mao is lowered into the floor,to be refrigerated underground.At dawn ,he rises with the sun in the east.The mausoleum reopened in 1998 after a 6-month cleanup.In its first 20years,it chalked up 110 million visitors.

This is the quietest, cleanest,and most revered room in China.Cameras and handbags must be checked in booths outside,at a cost of RMB8($1)per item.The Chairman Mao Mausoleum is open mornings Monday through Saturday 8:30 to 11:30am and on Monday,Wednesday,and Friday and Friday afternoons 2 to 4pm.Admission is free.

About the Author

The writer works in China.