Tianmen Square is the cultural, spiritual and political center of China and an exciting spot to see when you travel through the Beijing. From Tiananmen Square you can visit sites like the Forbidden City and Mausoleum of Mao Zedong that are only a short walk away, watch the hordes of Chinese and foreign tourist who fill the square and be subject to extremely thorough security.
Walking around Tiananmen Square, absorbing the square’s vibrant atmosphere and watching the enthusiasm of local tourists as they take the prerequisite photo with Mao Zedong’s enormous portrait in the background, is a uniquely Chinese experience every traveller to China should have.
The Square Itself & Nearby Attractions
With a width of 880 meters and length of 500 meters, Tiananmen Square has an area of 440,000 square meters and takes up a large chunk of down town Beijing. This enormous size makes Tiananmen Square the world’s third largest city square behind Merdeka Square in Jakarta and Praça dos Girassóis in Brazil.
Not only is Tiananmen Square itself a world class tourist attraction, it is also surrounded by host of mouth watering scenic spots.
Forbidden City – The home of 24 Ming and Qing Dynasty emperors and Beijing’s most stunning and incredible tourist attraction.
Tiananmen Gate or Tower – This is the massive building north of Tiananmen Square that you pass through to enter the Forbidden City. With a giant photo of Mao Zedong above the main gateway, you can’t miss Tiananmen Gate.
Monument to People’s Heroes – This 38-meter high granite structure is actually in the center of Tiananmen Square, not a part of the square’s surroundings. The Monument was built in 1958 to commemorate heroes of the people who laid down their lives for the Chinese War of Liberation (1946-1949), the New Democratic Revolution (1919 to 1949) any patriot who died from 1840 onwards.
Great Hall of the People – A building erected in 1959 for meetings by the China National People’s Congress and other political and diplomatic get togethers. Great for a few photos before moving on to more interesting sites.
Mausoleum of Mao Zedong –This is an eyesore of a building to the south of Tiananmen Square where Mao Zedong’s body has been placed on display. Great to visit if you have a few hours to spare in the center of Beijing, don’t mind queuing for ages and being subject to intense airport like security measures.
National Museum of China – Built in 2003, this museum includes the Chinese History Museum and the Chinese Revolutionary Museum. Never been there myself or spoken to anyone who has been there.
Many people know Tiananmen Square from the famous and tragic “incident” that occurred in 1989 but the square was built in 1651, has been a political hot spot for over a hundred years and has played a key role in China’s modern history.
1919 May 4th – Tiananmen Square first rose to political fame with the May Fourth Movement. After the farce of the 1912 revolution that toppled the Qing Dynasty, there were years of unrest over the actions of foreign invaders and the legless Beiyang government. This unrest culminated in a student led protest of national unity on May the Fourth that achieved very little but is regarded as a symbolic victory.
1949 October 1st – Twenty years later Tiananmen Square hosted the proclamation of the Peoples Republic of China. The proclamation signified the end of a long running civil war when the Communist Party defeated the Kuomintang who fled mainland China to Taiwan.
1976 April 5th – After Premier Zhou Enlai’s death, thousands of Beijing residents gathered in Tiananmen Square to pay their respects, mourn him and subtly criticize the Gang of Four who ran the communist party after Mao Zedong’s death. The gathering was called counter revolutionary and police were sent in to stop the mourning. Interestingly enough, the gathering was later called a display of patriotism when the Gang of Four were removed from power.
1989 May 4th – The most recent event in Tiananmen Square’s history happened started with a movement triggered over a mass mourning of General Secretary Hu Yaobang. The movement lasted for 7 weeks and was led mostly by students and intellectuals. I’m partial to my Chinese visa so I’m limited to what I can write here. Suffice to say it is the most famous and most tragic event in the history of Tiananmen Square.
Flag Raising & Lowering Ceremony
Like clockwork there is a ceremony every day in Tiananmen Square for the raising and the lowering of the Chinese flag. The timing of the flag raising and lowering changes from day according to sunrise and sunset. The times for 2011 vary from 4:45am to 7:35am for the raising and to 16:49pm to 19:47pm for the lowering.
Watching the raising of the flag is a popular practice amongst both local and foreign tourist and a great way to finish a good night out before staggering back to your hotel. Just make sure that you sober up before you arrive at Tiananmen Square to watch the raising of the flag because the guards don’t take kindly to drunken tourists who fail to give the raising of the flag its due respect.
What not to do at Tiananmen Square
Tiananmen Square is full of military guards, police in uniform and in plain clothes and constantly watched by scores of close circuit TV cameras. Understandably the Chinese government is very sensitive about Tiananmen Square and if you do anything you are not supposed to there, you are likely to bundled into the back of an unmarked van, questioned, have your visa revoked, black listed for life and on a plane back home.
So when you visit Tiananmen Square, keep in mind that you are the guest of a communist country and don’t misbehave and do anything you’ll regret. Some of the things you should not do at Tiananmen Square are make protests of any kind, make political or religious statements or act disrespectfully towards the Chinese government.
Basically you have to go out of your way to get into any trouble at Tiananmen Square but every year some fool foreign tourists make a special effort and gets dragged off so be warned.