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Tiananmen Square, also known as the Square of Heavenly Peace, in Beijing is filled with superlatives. This vast 880-metre-long and 500-metre-wide square can hold a million people and is the 4th largest square in the world. The Gate of Heavenly Peace, the Tiananmen Gate, provides access to the Forbidden City. Above the entrance hangs a portrait of Mao Zedong, the founder of modern China.
Tiananmen Square – declared a World Heritage Site in 1987 – owes its name to the highest pursuit of the Chinese warlords. It was built as the entrance to the Forbidden City, the exclusive domain of the Imperial Court, which has served as a meeting place between the country’s leaders and the population since the beginning of the 15th century. Practically every Chinese citizen wishes to visit the square at least once in their lifetime, especially the mausoleum where Mao (1893-1976) lies in state. Every day thousands of people pay their respects at his tomb.
Tiananmen Square is the symbol of state power in China. This has traditionally been the setting of large army parades. On the west side stands the Parliament building, also known as the Great Hall of the People. So it was hardly a coincidence that in the 1980s this became the epicentre of the people’s protests against the slow social and economic reforms.
On the night of 3 June 1989 the uprising came to a dramatic end. Citizens had joined the peaceful student protests and a large crowd had gathered on the square. Premier Deng Xiaoping called in the army to crush the protests. To the horror of the international community, he commanded the army to open fire on the crowd and hundreds of people were killed. Afterwards the square was cleared. The photo of 'Tank Man' wrote history however: a lonely student armed with only 2 shopping bags stood in front of the tanks and forced them to stop. The images were transmitted around the world and the one picture of the tank man became the most famous symbol of the protest.
“Tiananmen Square is China’s centre of power and glory”
Behind an enormous colonnade on the eastern side of the square is the Museum of Chinese History and Revolution, also known as the National Museum of China. Almost as big as the Parliament building on the other side, this structure was built in 1959 in honour of the 10th anniversary of the Chinese Republic. A visit to the museum takes you through large halls filled with many objects from different dynasties and pictures of all the revolutions and protests.
Tiananmen Square boasts unprecedented proportions. From the balcony of the gate – one of the 6 gates to the Forbidden City – Mao and other Chinese leaders would address the people with their speeches. In the middle of the square stands a 70-ton granite column, the Monument to the People's Heroes, commemorating the soldiers and civilians who died in various revolutionary wars. Another noteworthy building is the Parliament. Also vying for your attention are the huge Communist buildings that were added to the square in the 1950s – and the large video screens with advertising that were placed here in recent years.
Every day, from 4:00 am to 11:00 pm, visitors and locals are welcome to walk around and tour the impressive sights on and around the square. The visit to the square and Mao’s mausoleum are free, access to the Gate of Heavenly Peace costs about 1.5 euros (15 yuan).