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Tiananmen Square

Tiananmen Square – The Heart of Beijing

Tiananmen Square (Tiānānmén Guăngchăng – 天安门广场) is the heart of modern Beijing. It lies at the geographical centre of the city and was the focal point of many of the major events of China’s 20th Century. Standing on this vast field of concrete you will realise that you have finally arrived. This one place, more than any other, is China.

All of China’s many faces are on display within a short distance. Chairman Mao watches over the scene from the famous portrait, but just behind is the Forbidden City, the absurdly luxurious residence of the Emperors who preceded him. Just to the West is the Great Hall of The People, home of China’s rubber stamp legislature, but to the North West is Zhongnanhai, home of the top CCP officials, the new Forbidden City, and the real seat of power in China today.

Just to the South of Tiananmen square is Qianmen, a gate of the ancient city. Just a short distance to the West is the new Chinese National Theatre a huge, modern bubble-like dome of a building, controversial but cutting edge, not dissimilar to the China walking the world stage today.

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Tiananmen Square, over 400,000sqm of flat concrete, is the largest urban square in the world. The square itself was born out of the destructive chaos of the anti-foreigner Boxer rebellion (c 1900). Much of Beijing’s ancient centre was destroyed, and the square resulted, although it was Mao who ordered it to be increased to its current size.

Tiananmen Square History

It was on Tiananmen Square, in 1949, that Mao Zedong declared the foundation of China as we know it today, the People’s Republic, to an audience of more than a million supporters. Just as many flocked here again to mourn his death in 1976, a leader who had been elevated to God-like status. The name Tiananmen reverberated throughout the world due to the tumultuous events of 1989, but no echo of those times is discernible on the square today.

Other features of Tiananmen Square include the Monument of People’s Heroes, engraved with Mao’s handwriting and images of key revolutionary moments, and Mao’s Mausoleum, where millions of people a year queue for their chance to see the waxy corpse of the man who led the nation for almost thirty years.

Tiananmen Square During National Holidays

If you’re in China during a festival time, Tiananmen Square fills with the most patriotic and extravagant fountains, sculptures, flower displays and posters. It may seem a little tacky, but is fascinating to see. The rest of the time it’s peopled by a mix of foreign tour parties, Beijingers flying kites, people from the provinces having family photos taken by the Mao portrait, and rural types trying to surreptitiously sell postcards and Beijing 2008 baseball caps.

If you have free time in the evening, it might be worth going to the square again. The cool air seems to add a certain charm to a place which can seem oppressive in the heat of the day, and the postcard sellers give way to overexcited students giving lifts on the back of their bicycles.

You’ll probably be approached by all manner of people. Don’t confuse the people who want to charge you for taking your photograph with the people who just want their photo taken with foreigners. The blonde and red-haired among us are particularly popular in this realm.

Flag raising and lowering ceremonies take place at dawn and sunset. Beat the crowds by getting up in time for the morning one.

Tiananmen Square Practical Information

Tiananmen square is at the very heart of the city. The underground is very convenient, either Tiananmen West (Tiānānmén Xī – 天安门西) or Tiananmen East (Tiānānmén Dōng – 天安门东) on Line 1 are within a stone’s throw of the square. Otherwise, jump in a taxi, and if the driver doesn’t know the way, he’s probably not Chinese. Buses 1,2,4,5,6,7,8,9 and 10 all stop at Tiananmen Square.

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