Sunday, January 18, 2015

Tian'anmen Square

Beijing is the capital city of China and thus makes it one of the most important. It also has a long deep history dating back thousands of years. This history encompasses 7 World Heritage sites, including the Great Wall. Further, it is the birthplace of The People's Republic of China.

I went to several of the top sites in Beijing. I opted not to get the tour guide for these sites. I figured that I could use the internet to learn what I wanted to learn and these were places I wanted to just explore on my own. It was also an adventure navigating the metro and arriving on my own.

I googled what to do and see in Beijing and I found a list that listed different things to see during a short trip. I used those to decide what I should do. This post initially was going to be about all the places I saw in Beijing, but the first part I wrote ended up taking me a long time and can stand on it's own as a post.

Tian'anmen Square

This was probably the thing I wanted to see the most other than the Great Wall on my trip to Beijing. It's the biggest square in the world and is one of the most infamous. It is so big that there was more than one subway stop for the square itself. The square is surrounded by rather large buildings that each have their own significance. It's a big empty cement slab littered with hundreds of tourists, most of which were Chinese.

The square has no benches or trees. It does have lamp posts with video cameras, statues and plain clothes police officers. At the head of it is a flag pole. One of the things to do is watch them raise and lower the flag at dawn and dusk. This is something I did not do. In order to do it I would have to arrive in the square before 5am. I don't really understand the the point of the ceremony.

Across the street is Tian'anmen, or the Gate of Heavenly Peace. This is the entrance to the Imperial City which contains the Forbidden City, also on the list of things to do. It is from this gate that Mao Zedong announced that Beijing was to be the capital of the new People's Republic of China.

While in China I started to read Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China by Jung Chang. This was the third time I have read this book, and it was probably the most meaningful seeing as I was in China. Jung Chang also wrote a book with her husband about Mao that I intend to read. Both of her books are banned in China, although that pertains more to the Chinese versions of the books.

It is hard to imagine that some of the older people I rode the subway with in both Beijing and Shanghai could have been Red Guards, a role for school-aged children during the Cultural Revolution. This means they would have traveled to Tian'anmen square to partake in a rally with Chairman Mao himself! In fact, if you did not join the Red Guards you and your family would probably become under suspicion. This is how Mao controlled a population of over half a billion people, with fear. During the 10 years of the Cultural Revolution he got rid of schools for children and used the children as his own personal spies.

These children were used by Mao as peons to instill fear in a whole nation of people simply due to their devotion to him. What is the most shocking is that he is still revered as divine like! Right on the Gate of Heavenly Peace is his portrait. This portrait is replaced every year on the anniversary of the forming of the People's Republic of China (October 1st). The portrait weighs 1 and a half tons. Mao died in 1976--almost 40 years ago--but still his legacy lives on despite all the horrible things he did. Further, right in the middle of Tian'anmen square is a mausoleum embalming his body.

I am perplexed why this man--this tyrant--has become so enshrined. It isn't a topic I am eager to broach given all the secrecy and censorship there is within the country.

Another taboo topic is about something that happened in the square on May 35th, 1989. I am of course using a code name for the day as if you search for June 4th 1989 in China your access will be blocked as the material is "too sensitive". At least from what I have read (I use a VPN). Other clever nicknames include 8 squared (8x8=64, 6/4 is June 4th) and the roman numerals for 6 and 4 (VIIV).

This event had weeks of political protests eventually squashed by the communist party sending in tanks and soldiers to clear the square by force. Because of the secrecy involved in keeping information about this away from the general public, the death toll is unknown. The Chinese government released numbers between 200-300 people while estimates outside the country are in the thousands.

Under Chairman Mao this would never have happened. Not because he wouldn't have let hundreds or thousands of innocent people die but because people were so afraid to criticize him, the government or the communist party to themselves, let alone out in public. The Tian'anmen Square massacre was the People's Republic of China reminding its people and the world that they were still boss even though the country had come a long way politically, economically and globally in the 13 years since the Cultural Revolution ended.


  1. Nice work, Andy. You might also have mentioned that Mao was the author of the so-called Great Leap Forward, which was a series of idiotic, utopian policies that had no chance whatsoever of succeeding. What was the result? Oh, between 30 million and 70 million Chinese people died of starvation. This was the worst man-made famine in history. Mao was a killer.