China can be one heck of an intriguing destination for any ardent tourist. There is so much of rich history and enigma surrounding this vast land that has seen so much in its chequered past, that one only has to look above their shoulders when it comes to the Chinese, to find something interesting to dwell upon.
One such spacious presence in the heart of Beijing is the Tiananmen Square, the fourth largest city square in the world, spread across a staggering 109 acres. It is of humongous cultural significance to the Chinese and has been the location for several relevant and crucial events in the past.
The name to this vital part of Chinese infrastructure is derived from the Tiananmen Gate or the Gate of Heavenly Peace located to the square’s north, separating it from the Forbidden City. The Gate was built in 1415 during the era of the Ming Dynasty. Towards the time the Ming Dynasty came to an end, the battle between Li Zicheng and the early Qing Emperors effectively destroyed the gate. However, in the ensuing years the Tiananmen Square was designed and constructed in 1651 and has been continually enlarged and restructured to its original state by the 1950s.
The Tiananmen Square has suffered notable ignominies and has been weathered by the annals of time. In 1860, the British and French armies that invaded China made camp near the gate and even considered burning it down along with the entire Forbidden City. To contrary opinion at the time, they decided against it and burnt down the Old Summer Palace instead. The Boxer Rebellion in 1900 badly damaged the office complexes and ministries in the Square. It has taken quite a beating from time to time, but has come through the tougher periods to stand as a symbol of the Chinese resistance and stronghold. Its symbolism is of great moral importance to the Chinese people. During the dynastic rule, the Square was of high ceremonial importance and was closed off to the general public. Only the Emperor would be allowed through it.
In contemporary times however, the renovation of the Tiananmen Square went underway in full scale during the 1950s. The Gate of China was demolished allowing the expansion of the Square. In November 1958, Mao Zedong, in his vision to make the Square the largest and most spectacular in the world, ordered it to be expanded so as to accommodate over 500,000 people in it. The surrounding space was taken over and replaced with structures richly steeped in history and tradition, making the Tiananmen Square China’s cultural capital of sorts. On the Square’s southern edge came up the ‘Monument to the People’s Heroes’; and in a bid to celebrate the 10-year anniversary of the People’s Republic of China in 1958-59, ‘The Great Hall of People’ and the ‘National Museum of China’ were erected on the western and eastern sides of the Square respectively.
The Square’s penultimate and final alterations came in 1976 and 1990s respectively. In the former year, after Mao’s death a mausoleum was built in the location of the erstwhile Gate of China. As a part of that project, the Square was further increased in size to fill in 600,000 people! And in the latter years, the National Grand Theatre sprang up in the vicinity followed by the expansion of the National Museum.
The Chang’an Avenue bifurcates the Square with the Tiananmen Gate and Zhengyanmen Gate guarding both its ends.
The Tiananmen Tower on the north end of the Square is a sight to the eye, accounting for many significant events in the past. The Tower has been an ever-present watchdog of the Chinese mainland
The Monument to People’s Heroes is the largest monument in China’s history. Inside, you shall find ‘The People’s Heroes Are Immortal’ written by Chairman Mao, engraved on the monument. Eight large relief structures symbolize China’s modern history. Two rows of white marble railings engulf the mega-structure.
The Great Hall of People on the other hand is the meeting point of the China National People’ Congress. Twelve marble posts divide it into three parts – The Central Hall, The Great Auditorium and Banqueting Hall. The marble flooring majestically reflects the crystal lamps that hang from the ceiling within the building.
The Mausoleum or Memorial Hall of Chairman Mao on the south side is also separated into three portions with the former leader’s body lying in a crystal coffin in one of the halls, adorned by fresh bouquets of various floras.
That brings us to the National Museum of China on the east end of the Square. Coming into existence is 2003, it houses relics from China’s oriental as well as revolutionary history.
In recent memory too, the Square has been witness to controversy and bloodshed. The protests following the death of Premier Zhou Enlai were unwelcome and so were the protests of 1989, which resulted in large-scale military suppression and the death of hundreds. More recent events have been a mixed bag of sorts. On 23rd January, 2001 five members of a spiritual movement persecuted by the government indulged in self immolation. On 28th October, 2013 a car crashed into the Square as a part of a terrorist suicide attack killing 5 people. On the positive side, there have been annual mass military parades in the Square on each anniversary of the 1949 proclamation of the People’s Republic of China till 1959. Parades have subsequently taken place on the 35th, 50th and 60th anniversary of the same historic event.
Coming back to lighter things, the Tiananmen Square is one of the most panoramic attractions in the entire world. Spread across such a vast expanse of land, if you were to stand at the centre of the square, the panoramic view around you would be quite extraordinary to behold.
Access to this obviously unmissable modern masterpiece is readily available through public transportation. The Beijing Subway has stops at the Tiananmen East and West ends off Chang’an Avenue. There are also quite a few bus routes that stop on the northern and southern sides of the Square.
The sheer magnanimity of Tiananmen Square with respect to China’s oriental, revolutionary as well as modern identity makes it a must-visit place for any tourist. The Square can be looked upon as the perfect example for irony. Though you would be standing in acres of empty space in the Tiananmen Square, you would be in the midst of years and years of struggle, achievement and perseverance. Go ahead and enjoy the experience!