Heavenly Peace; two important, desirable attributes, and the gate in Tiananmen Tower located next to the square with the same, world-famous name, is the Gate of Heavenly Peace. That is the English translation you will find in guide books. The real translation is a bit more involved; The Gate of Accepting Heavenly Mandate, which was a duty of the then Chinese emperor. But we will leave this to those more knowledgeable in Mandarin and history. For most of us, Tiananmen Square and the adjoining Tower are places of historic importance, places that has to be seen when in Beijing. And I was in Beijing, delighted to be in Tiananmen Square.
Xu Di, my translator and I had taken a taxi from our hotel en route to Tiananmen Square. On the way we picked up Mario (or Super Mario as he described himself), our tour guide par excellence.
It was a beautiful morning, sunny, with just a hint of the well known Beijing haze, early April and not too cold. The taxi dropped us off at a place next to the square. We walked one block, entered the tunnel that took us beneath a busy road and ascended into the famous square. I stood rooted to the spot while I slowly looked around, the camera busy in my hand. This is the second largest square in the world after Red Square, Moscow, so a little orientation is in order.
Tiananmen is built along a north-south axis keeping feng shui in mind. Qianmen Tower is at the southern end of the square. We had seen this last evening (see the last blog). To the west is the big, imposing Great Hall of the People with the national emblem of the People’s Republic of China emblazoned on top.
This is where the huge Politburo and People’s Congress meetings are held. To the east is the National Museum and to the north, the historic Tiananmen Tower. It was from this tower that Mao proclaimed the creation of the People’s Republic of China on October 1, 1949. It must have been a day to remember with close to a million people cheering in the square below. Symbolically, just below where he made the historic proclamation, hangs a 1.5 ton painting of Mao Zedong.
On either side of the portrait are two enormous placards in Mandarin characters. Mario translated these for me. The one on the left reads, “Long Live the People’s Republic of China” and the one on the right reads, “Long Live the Great Unity of the World’s Peoples”.
In the center of the square is an unmistakable, tall granite obelisk, the Monument to the People’s Heroes and just to its south, the Chairman Mao Memorial Hall where the embalmed body of the founder of the modern Chinese state lies in a crystal coffin.
I looked round slowly, taking in the scene. The place was crowded, not surprising for the capital of the most populous country. But most were tourists from outside Beijing and even outside the country, such as myself. There were visitors from the different, far-flung provinces in their regional, colorful attire. The many tour groups were in color-coded hats, jackets or flags. There was a long, somber line to get into the Mao Memorial Hall. The Chinese hold him in great reverence and proper behavior and attire are highly recommended. Elsewhere in the square, people were just enjoying the day and the sights. I saw a small group of school students ̶ Young Pioneers in their distinctive red scarves, engaged in a patriotic drill in front of the Monument to the People’s Heroes.
We slowly walked towards Tiananmen Tower and the Forbidden City hidden behind it. It was a long walk over granite tiles that pave the square. Comfortable shoes are a must and I was glad I was wearing my Merrell hikers. We posed for some pictures under Mao’s portrait. A busy road, Chang’an Avenue, with dense traffic separates the square from the Tower, but a subterranean walkway took us quickly and safely under the road. We found ourselves in front of the tall, smooth, crimson walls of the Forbidden City. I gazed in awe at these historic walls that stand as mute witness to the centuries of tempestuous history that has swept the square, the city and the country. Through the narrow gate in the Tower, I was about to enter the Forbidden City, forbidden no more.