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Tiananmen Square, China
Tiananmen Square, China (Photo by zibik on Unsplash)

Tiananmen Square, China

Tiananmen Square is a creation of modern China. For the hundreds of years of the Central Kingdom's existence, large, public assembly places did not exist. It was only in 1911, after the collapse of the imperial monarchy, that China’s new leaders began building large squares and plazas for the people. The Place of Heavenly Peace lies in the very heart of Beijing, with its northern side defined by the Gate of Heavenly Peace, the main entrance to the Forbidden City. Before 1911, Tiananmen was the name for the large area just outside the imperial palace gates, where administrators and ministers had their offices. It was in front of the gate that Mao Zedong announced the creation of the Peoples' Republic of China on 1 October 1949.

Today. the mausoleum where Mao's mummified corpse is on display lies near that same gate. A history and revolution museum was built along the plaza's eastern flank in 1959, with the Great Hall of the People along the west. The Monument to the People's Heroes, a 40 m tall quadratic stone stele  inscribed with the words of Mao Zedong and Zhou En Lai, dominates the centre of the plaza. The area enclosed by the plaza is more than 40 hectares, making it the largest enclosed plaza in the world.

The residents of Beijing call Tiananmen Square “the place of the incidents”. Ever since the most recent incidents took place, the Plaza of Heavenly Peace has been closed off to general use, for fear of further incidents and the worldwide uproar they might cause.

The first great demonstration in Tiananmen Square took place on 4 May 1919, incited by the Treaty of Versailles, which had ignored China's claims to territory seized by Japan on behalf of Germany. Students and intellectuals took to the square demanding democratization of the domestic political process and a greater role for China with respect to the West. This “Fourth May Movement’ was a strong influence on later political developments in China. On 1 October 1949, Mao Zedong, who had taken the title of “Great Chairman", stood in the square to declare the founding of the Peoples’ Republic of China and its government by the communist party. The next incident took place on 4 April 1976, the traditional Chinese “Day of the Dead”. Thousands at mourners gathered in Tiananmen Square with wreaths and flowers for their beloved, recently deceased President Zhou Enlai. During the night, however, opposing political forces cleared away the flowers by order of the government. Over the following days thousands of people gathered at the square to demonstrate against this act. The police and army reacted with brutal violence and mass arrests.

Today, demonstrations in Tiananmen Square are strictly forbidden. The square is only opened for official purposes, such as mass marches or military displays. The leaders of China celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of the Peoples’ Republic there on 1 October 1999 with a giant military parade and Organized mass procession. Over a million people were ordered to the Place of Heavenly Peace, where they were instructed to "rejoice" for the benefit of the world media.

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