Tiananmen Square. Plaza in Beijing, China

Tiananmen Square

Plaza in Beijing, China

Tiananmen Photo © Chris Wilkinson

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Tiananmen Square

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tam19 - Tiananmen Square
tam19 - Tiananmen Square. Photo by drnan tu
Located in the heart of Beijing, Tiananmen Square is a large, open space named after the Tiananmen or ‘Heavenly Peace’ gate to its north which leads towards the Forbidden City. It covers around 440,000 square meters, making it the fourth-largest city square in the world, and has served as the location for many events of significance throughout Chinese history.

History

Tiananmen Square was originally designed and built in 1651 at one fourth of today’s size. At its center stood the ‘Great Ming Gate’ which served as the southern access to the Imperial City and was renamed the ‘Great Qing Gate’ when power changed hands. It was purely a ceremonial gate and only opened for the Emperor to pass through while other traffic was diverted through side gates. Despite its status as being the so-called Gate of China, it was demolished in 1954 to allow the square to be enlarged as part of Mao Zedong (Wikipedia Article)’s vision to make it the largest of its kind in the world with the capacity to hold more than 500,000 people. This huge construction process lasted until August 1959, demolishing a significant number of buildings and structures in its surroundings.

The Monument to the People’s Heroes was erected on its southern edge, while the Great Hall of the People and the Revolutionary History Museum were built on the western and eastern sides. After Mao’s death in 1976, a Mausoleum was built near the former site of the Gate of China and the square again expanded in size.

Notable events

Tiananmen Square serves as a meeting place for people for both celebration and protest. In 1919 it was the site of the May Fourth Movement, an anti-imperial protest which evolved from student demonstrations, and on October 1, 1949 was where Mao Zedong proclaimed the People’s Republic of China. Following the death of Premier Zhou Enlai in 1976, protests erupted in the Square and again, most famously, in 1989. The latter saw a huge military presence and suppression, resulting in the deaths of perhaps thousands, and what became later known world wide as the Tiananmen Square Protests of 1989 (Wikipedia Article). This pro-democracy movement sky-rocketed the Square to fame when martial law was declared by the government and the Chinese People’s Liberation Army opened fire on civilians.

The Square has also played host to regular military parades celebrating political anniversaries of importance to the country, including annual displays between 1949 and 1959 in recognition of Mao’s proclamation, and the 50th anniversary of the People’s Republic in 1999.

Visiting Tiananmen Square

Tiananmen Square is an interesting place to visit and soak up the historical events which have taken place here. The Monument to the People’s Heroes, built in 1952, dominates the Square at 125 feet tall. It is the largest monument in China’s history, with Chairman Mao’s quote: ‘The people’s heroes are immortal’ engraved on it, as well as eight relief sculptures illustrating the development of modern Chinese history.

The Memorial Hall of Chairman Mao sits on the southern side of the square. It is divided into three halls, in one of which lies his body within a crystal coffin. The Great Hall of the People, erected in 1959, stands prominently on the western side of the square. Divided into three parts - the Central Hall, the Great Auditorium, and the Banqueting Hall, it is the site of the China National People’s Congress meetings. On the eastern side lies the National Museum of China, combining the former Chinese Revolutionary Museum with the Chinese History Museum, and home to a large number of cultural relics detailing Chinese history up to the modern day.

To the north lies the Tiananmen Gate and to the south Zhangyangmen (or Qianmen) Gate, while Chang’an Avenue (the location of the famous photograph taken during the Tiananmen Square Protests of a man refusing to move from the path of moving tanks) extends between Tiananmen Gate and the Square.

The Square is generally open to the public, albeit under heavy security due to its notoriety as a stage for public protest. Be prepared to have yourself and your belongings searched, while both plain clothes and uniformed police patrol the area and security cameras are installed to monitor your movements and any potential dissent which may arise. Following the self-immolation of a man in 2001, there are now fire extinguishers placed throughout the square in case the incident is repeated.

Its location in the city center makes it easy to access on Beijing’s public transport network. It is serviced by numerous bus lines which stop at both the northern and southern ends of the square, while there are subway stations at Tiananmen West and Tiananmen East, as well as Qianmen Station just to the south of the square.

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Author: Pip Strickland. Last updated: Apr 01, 2015

Pictures of Tiananmen Square

Tiananmen Square
Tiananmen Square. Photo by wfeiden

tam23 - Tiananmen Square
tam23 - Tiananmen Square. Photo by drnan tu

Beijing, Tiananmen Square - Tiananmen Square
Beijing, Tiananmen Square - Photo by Allan Watt

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