Thursday, February 12th, 2004 – Day 359

Thursday, February 12th, 2004 – Day 359

I arrived in Beijing at 2.00pm and took a taxi for 20 Yuan to the Far East International hostel. It was 75 Yuan for the night in the hotel section. It was a four persoon dorm but with TV, ensuite, hot water. I scrubbed myself clean and was ready to leave at 4.00pm for town. I enquired at the hostel (opposite the hotel) about the Great Wall of China. I paid 60 Yuan for a tour (transport only) that leaves at 7.30am tomorrow (it would have been 90 with the hotel). Its a self guide Wall-walking tour (about 10km) from the Great Wall at Jinshanling to Simatai.

I then walked to Tiananmen Square.

This is the world’s largest public square, the size of 90 football fields (covering 99 acres) with standing room for 300,000 people. It is the heart of Beijing and of the Chinese nation. The square received a face-lift over the winter of 1998-99; its old paving blocks were replaced with granite stepping stones, which were laid just in time to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China, on October 1, 1949. Chairman Mao Zedong stood that day on the Gate of Heavenly Peace at the entrance to the Forbidden City, across Chang’an Avenue from the square, and announced the founding of a new China to the masses. Mao’s portrait now hangs from that reviewing stand, where a new generation of leaders gathers every October 1 to face the citizens of China. Tiananmen Square served as China’s open-air forum through much of the 20th century, the scene of both historic ceremonies and protest demonstrations. It is best known to the outside world (via live international television coverage) as the arena for the democracy demonstrations that culminated in the crackdown on June 4, 1989. When foreigners stroll across Tiananmen Square, as most visitors do at least once, it is this specter that still seems to haunt the stony expanses and its monuments.

Tiananmen Square stands on the central north-south axis of the old Imperial city. In fact, there was no square here during the time of the emperors, only a wide boulevard, the Imperial Way, lined with state offices. The Imperial Way ran from the Gate of Heavenly Peace south to Qianmen (Front Gate), which still stands guard at the southern end of Tiananmen Square. Qianmen was one of the nine great gates when Beijing possessed its city walls. (They were removed in 1958.) The Imperial Way was the southern axis of the city, stretching from the Forbidden City all the way to the Temple of Heaven. Qianmen, which dates back nearly 500 years, remains a city landmark. Its northern passage is known as the Main Gate, and its southern passage is the Arrow Tower. Just beyond the square stands the world’s largest KFC.

Today, Tiananmen Square contains fresh monuments to the new city. Located on the square itself are the Monument to the People’s Heroes and the Mao Zedong Mausoleum. To the west is the Great Hall of the People and on the east flank are the Museum of Chinese History and the Museum of the Chinese Revolution. Each site is open to the public. The square itself is open daily from dawn to dusk. At twilight each day, there is a ceremonial lowering of the Chinese flag by a detachment of the People’s Liberation Army, a popular photo opportunity among visitors. And those contraptions that look like video cameras on the speaker poles encompassing the square are just what you supposed–surveillance devices to record what happens in China’s most sensitive and venerated public forum.

Click on the picture to see it in its original size

Beijing – Tiananmen Square – Crowds waiting for duska nd the unfurling of the National flag (12-02-2004)

Click on the picture to see it in its original size

Beijing – Tiananmen Square (12-02-2004)

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