The vast, stone-paved Tiananmen Square is the center of Beijing and, figuratively, the center of China. While not particularly attractive, it is iconic, and the size and open space of the square is guaranteed to astonish. Although always crowded, with an area of some 440000 square meters, there is plenty of room to move in Tiananmen Square. Most visitors are Chinese tourists from other cities, and tour groups cut swathes across the square. The square can hold up to a million people, as it did upon Mao’s death.
Tiananmen Square is a relatively new construction. The space was previously occupied by a corridor leading up to the Forbidden City, which ran north-south through the center of the square, while official departments and ministries stood to the east and west. The modern-day square was conceived by Chairman Mao and took on its current appearance in the 1950s.
Today, the immense plain of Tiananmen Square is interrupted only by the Monument to the People’s Heroes in the center, and by Chairman Mao’s Mausoleum at the southern end. Across the traffic-clogged Chang’An Jie at the north of the square stands the Gate of Heavenly Peace (Tiananmen) from which the square takes its name. The famous portrait of Mao Zedong hung on this gate can be clearly seen from Tiananmen Square. On the west side of the square is the Great Hall of the People, where the National People’s Congress is held. Built in 1959, it’s an imposing, but not particularly attractive building. On the east side of Tiananmen Square, opposite the Great Hall of the People, is the Chinese History Museum. At Tiananmen Square’s southern edge stand two gates, Zhengyangmen and Arrow Tower, known together as Qianmen.
A great time to visit the square is at dawn or dusk, when well-drilled guards carry out a ceremony of raising (at dawn) and lowering (at dusk) the Chinese flag. The crowds for the lowering of the flag can be massive so it’s better to catch the dawn ceremony if you can wake up that early (or stay up that late).
Directions: Take the subway to Tiananmen Dong station. It brings you up on the north-east corner of Tiananmen Square.
Show the taxi driver: 请带我去天安门广场，谢谢 (Please take me to Tiananmen Square. Thank you.)