We were body searched and our bags scanned and in the unblinking gaze of security men and CCTV cameras, we walked on to Tiananmen Square in the centre of Beijing. It’s 106 acres had no shade and the heat was intense.
The name comes from the Tiananmen – The Gate of Heavenly Peace in the wall of the Imperial City. Mao Zedong proclaimed the founding of the People’s Republic of China in the square in October 1949 and enlarged it by four times its original size in the 1950s. The square contains the Monument to the People’s Heroes, the Great Hall of the People, the National Museum of China and near the centre where the “Great Ming Gate” – the southern gate to the Imperial City stood, the Mausoleum of Mao Zedong.
We entered the Square at its southern end. The Zhengyangmen – the 1419 Ming Dynasty Gate of the Zenith Sun which once guarded the southern entry into the Inner City, was encased in scaffolding. The kilometre zero point for highways in China is located just outside the Zhengyangmen Gate.
The Great Hall of the People is located at the western edge of the square. It is a state building used for legislative and ceremonial activities by the government of the People’s Republic of China and the ruling Communist Party.
The 38 metre marble and granite obelisk in front of the Great Hall of the People is the Monument to the People’s Heroes, constructed in the 1950s and dedicated to the martyrs of revolutionary struggle during the 19th and 20th centuries in China. On the pedestal of the monument are bas-reliefs depicting eight major revolutionary episodes – Destruction of opium at Humen in 1839 in the run-up to the First Opium War, Jintian Uprising which was the catalyst for the Taiping Revolution in 1851, Wuchang Uprising – the catalyst for the 1911 Xinhai Revolution, the 1919 May 4th Movement, 1925 May 30 Movement, Nanchang Uprising in 1927, War of Resistance Against Japan from 1931 to1945, Yangtze River Crossing Campaign of the Chinese Civil War in 1949. On the front of the monument is an inscription in Mao Zedong’s handwriting, which reads, “Eternal glory to the people’s heroes!” On the back of the monument is an epitaph, composed by Mao Zedong.
The Chairman Mao Memorial Hall, commonly known as the Mausoleum of Mao Zedong, is the final resting place of Mao Zedong, Chairman of the Politburo of the Communist Party of China from 1943 until his death in 1976. Although Mao had wished to be cremated, this was ignored and his body was embalmed. In the wake of the Sino-Soviet split, the renowned Soviet process of embalming developed for the preservation of the corpse of Vladimir Lenin, had to be learned through the Soviet ally Vietnam. The body of Mao is on display in an illuminated crystal coffin.
We walked across the square to its northern end. The Chinese flag was flying high from a flagpole on a white marble stage which was cordoned off and guarded by officers from two forces. They stood to attention under green parasols – the only shade in the entire square. We were asked not to photograph soldiers or policemen but vsitors to the capitol from China’s provinces were keen to have their photographs taken with us. We took our selfies, posed for a group photograph for Wendy Wu Tours (copies were sold to members of the group at 150 Yuan – about £18 each), crossed the road and walked towards the Forbidden City.
There were no tanks in the square and nobody talked about June 1989.