Tiananmen Square
Transport: Subway: Qian Men
Price: Free admission

Tiananmen Square (pinyin: Tiananmen guang chang) is the large plaza near the center of Beijing, China, named after the Tiananmen (literally, Gate of Heavenly Peace) which sits to its north, separating it from the Forbidden City. It has great cultural significance as a symbol because it was the site of several key events in Chinese history.

The square covers 40.5 hectares (100.acres), which makes it the largest open-urban square in the world.

History

The Tiananmen Gate was first built in the 1420s in the Ming Dynasty. During the demise of the Ming Dynasty, heavy fighting between Li Zicheng and the early Qing emperors damaged (or perhaps destroyed) the gate. In 1651 (early Qing Dynasty), the Tiananmen Gate was renovated. During the Ming and Qing eras, there was no public square at Tiananmen; instead, it was a T-shaped walled courtyard flanked by offices various ministries, bureaus and agencies. It was enlarged to its present size and cemented in 1958.

British and French troops who invaded Beijing in 1860 pitched camp near the gate and briefly considered burning the gate and the entire Forbidden City down. They decided ultimately to preserve the palace and to burn instead the emperor's Summer Palace. The Qing emperor eventually agreed to let the foreign powers establish headquarters in the area. During the Boxer Rebellion of 1900 the siege badly damaged the office complexes and several ministries were burnt down. In the conflict's denouement, the area became a space for foreign troops to assemble their armies and horses. It was cleared in due course to produce the beginning of what is now known as the Tiananmen Square. The Square, however, was not officially made until the PRC took power in 1949.

Near the centre of today's square, close to the site of the Mao Zedong Mausoleum, once stood one of the most important gates of Beijing. This gate was known as the "Great Ming Gate" during the Ming Dynasty, "Great Qing Gate" during the Qing Dynasty, and "Gate of China" during the Republic of China era. Unlike the other gates in Beijing, such as the Tiananmen and the Qianmen, this was a purely ceremonial gateway, with three arches but no ramparts, similar in style to the ceremonial gateways found in the Ming Dynasty Tombs. This gate had a special status as the "Gate of the Nation", as can be seen from its successive names. It normally remained closed, except when the Emperor passed through. Commoner traffic was diverted to two side gates at the northern and eastern ends of today's square, respectively. Because of this diversion in traffic, a busy marketplace, called Chessgrid Streets developed in the big, fenced square to the south of this gate. In the early 1950s, the Gate of China (as it was then known) was demolished along with the Chessgrid Streets to the south, completing the expansion of Tiananmen Square to (approximately) its current size.

Features

Used as a massive gathering place since its inception, its flatness is broken only by the 38-metre (125 ft) high Monument to the People's Heroes completed in 1958, and the Mausoleum of Mao Zedong completed in 1977. The square lies between two ancient, massive gates: the Tian'anmen to the north and the Zhengyangmen, better known as Qianmen (pinyin: qianmen; literally "Front Gate") to the south. Along the west side of the Square is the Great Hall of the People. Along the east side is the National Museum of China (dedicated to Chinese history predating 1919). Chang'an Avenue, which is used for parades, lies between the Tian'anmen and the Square. Trees line the east and west edges of the Square, but the square itself is open, with neither trees nor benches.

The Square is lit with huge lampposts which also sport video cameras. It is heavily monitored by uniformed and plain clothes policemen.

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