Monday, June 2, 2008

China Day 03: Tiananmen Square

They aren't starting small with us - Tiananmen Square is one of the biggest public spaces I have ever seen! The bus dropped us off around the corner a block or so away and we walked over to the square. To get an idea, check out this guy's site - it's pretty busy, but scroll down a bit and you'll see a great satellite image of Tiananmen Square (although he has the photo oriented "on its side" - just twist your head to the left...)

We approached the square from the southwest corner and the first thing we saw is the old Ming-era gateway called the Zhengyangmen, across from the archery tower:
The gateway was rebuilt in the early 1900s, but it looked pretty authentic to me! We turned and walked up the sidewalk of the road that borders the square on the West, snapping pictures wildly all the way.

Here's Lilian, our Beijing guide
and Dad
and here's me
You'd think we weren't gonna get any more chances to get our pictures taken in front of stuff today!

Sadly one of our company was so invested in taking his pictures that he walked right off the curb and fell down and cut himself. This kinda put a damper on things, but after everybody swarmed around getting him washed off from our water bottles and bandaged up with an eclectic assortment of Band Aids, we were all ready to continue.

A little further on, we came up alongside Chairman Mao's mausoleum:
This is a side view. The Chairman is in residence, but he was not at home to visitors today. Sometimes the Chinese put him on display but they don't want him to deteriorate so most of the time he is under refrigeration.

As we moseyed along, I saw a pretty little gateway/doorway to my left:
Isn't that cute? I was just snapping a picture when Lilian told me "That's the Happy Room!"

By now we were able to see the square proper, but there seemed to be no way to get there from here:
That's a pretty darn busy street. Fortunately it turns out that they have built subterranean pedestrian walkways so we can groundhog our way over there without having to actually dodge Chinese vehicular traffic. When we emerged it was to see the full expanse of Tiananmen Square. Just to give you the stats, it is the size of 90 football fields. It has been here in central Beijing for a very long time - it is basically the Forbidden City's front yard - but during the imperial era it was smaller. Chairman Mao had it considerably enlarged in his time, but then it got smaller again after he died and they built his mausoleum on a good chunk of it. It is also mildly infested with vendors, but I'm sorry - nothing like the ones in Egypt!

Looking around us we saw
the Great Hall of the Peoples, back on the other side of the street we just crossed. It is the Chinese version of the Congress building.

These security guys are here to keep the vendors under control;
they stand around all day on scorching pavement in the sun, but at least they get a little umbrella!

In the center of the square you find the Monument to the People's Heroes
built to honor those who lost their lives in the revolutionary struggles of the 19th and 20th centuries. It doesn't look that huge against the scale of the Square, but it's 10 stories tall!

Turn to your right and you'll see the front of Chairman Mao's Mausoleum:

The square is dotted with little family groups as well as the foreign tourists. This little guy
liked the flower Lilian uses to give us something we can see at a distance (all the guides are waving some tall, distinctive object for their own sheep to follow) so she let him see it up close.

About all the families: It may seem kind of odd that the Chinese hold Tiananmen Square in immense affection, given that if you gave an American a word association test about it, they would say "Massacre" or "Tank" or "Protest". To the Chinese, it is the heart of China. It is the place where Chairman Mao stood to proclaim the founding of the People's Republic of China and said, "The Chinese people have stood up!" If all foreigners want above all things to see the Great Wall when we come here, we were told by several people, the Chinese themselves want to come and see Tiananmen Square.

On the far side of the square, facing the Great Hall of the People, you can see the Chinese National Museum:
It was under construction, as you can see from the presence of "the Chinese national bird - the crane!" on its roof. We heard that knee-slapper a few times, but it's true - the building boom here is really as intense as you've heard/read. In any event, we couldn't have gone in the museum (as if we'd have had time) but I did nip over to take note of the Olympic countdown clock on its front:
We were there 67 days 8 hours 51 minutes and 49 seconds before the commencement of the Opening Ceremonies. I had to scoot over there fast and get back in a hurry because we were being posed for a group souvenir photo in front of the Tiananmen Gate, which is at the extreme north end of Tiananmen Square and leads into the Forbidden City. (By the way, the name Tiananmen means Heavenly Peace.) Its most famous decoration is the portrait of Chairman Mao which, I learned, is repainted every year. We had our picture taken with him smiling benignly over our shoulders.

Next we will enter the Forbidden City itself!

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