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article imagePhoto Essay: Beijing's Tiananmen Square Special

By Lonna Lisa Williams     Mar 1, 2014 in World
Beijing - One of the largest city squares in the world, Tiananmen has been the site of political turmoil and draws millions of tourists to see its war memorials, Mao's tomb, museums, government offices, and military parades.
Tiananmen is the name of the ornate gate that separates the square from the Forbidden City. In Chinese, it means "Gate of Heavenly Peace," and it was built in 1415 during the Ming Dynasty. The square itself has been enlarged since then. My Chinese tour guide said it is the largest city square in the world, but other sources put it at number 4.
Although the square was most used by China, British and French troops who invaded Beijing in 1860 pitched camp there and briefly considered burning down the entire Forbidden City. They burned Yuan Ming Yuan Gardens instead. During the Boxer Rebellion of 1900, foreign troops assembled their armies and horses in the square and burned down or damaged some of the surrounding buildings.
Chairman Mao, founder of the People's Republic of China in 1949, expanded the square in the 1950s. After he died, his tomb was erected there. Today the square can hold 600,000 people. It now contains the Monument to the People's Heroes next to Mao's tomb and is bordered by the National Museum of China, the Great Hall of the People, and the National Grand Theater.
Tiananmen Square has been the scene of violence. In 1989, student protests centered there resulted in government military crackdown that killed hundreds and possibly thousands of people. Foreign journalists were expelled, people arrested all over China, and the incident was made a forbidden topic in China. In 2013, a car crashed into the square, killing 2 tourists and injuring 40 others. The car then exploded and killed its 3 occupants who were linked to Muslim separatists in the northwest Xinjiang province (which has caused a lot of trouble recently). The incident was covered up inside China.
I would never have guessed Tiananmen Square's violent history as I toured it on Chinese New Year. Our guide took us there before dawn, and we spent two hours walking around in the dim light and taking photos. Even though we got there early, crowds were already packing in. Strangers asked me if I was American, if I believed in Jesus, and if I would pose with them for photos. My visit to Tiananmen Square seemed surreal, a mix of history and cameras. I crossed under the famous Gate of Heavenly Peace, beneath the watchful gaze of Chairman Mao and his soldiers, to explore the vast Forbidden City, a much older place where Emperors once ruled China.
My first  predawn view of Tiananmen Square
My first, predawn view of Tiananmen Square
An overview of Tiananmen Square with the War Memorial in the center
An overview of Tiananmen Square with the War Memorial in the center
The Great Hall of the People to the right of Tiananmen Square
The Great Hall of the People to the right of Tiananmen Square
A lone guard in front of Chairman Mao s Tomb
A lone guard in front of Chairman Mao's Tomb
The central Monument to the People s Heros
The central Monument to the People's Heros
Close-up of the monument and a Chinese soldier
Close-up of the monument and a Chinese soldier
An even closer look
An even closer look
Chinese tourists pose in front of the right-hand statues to the People s Heros
Chinese tourists pose in front of the right-hand statues to the People's Heros
Guards by the left-side statues to the Heros of the People
Guards by the left-side statues to the Heros of the People
The National Museum of China to the left of Tiananmen Square
The National Museum of China to the left of Tiananmen Square
A Chinese tourist poses in Tiananmen Square
A Chinese tourist poses in Tiananmen Square
Lonna Lisa Williams poses with some Chinese girls in Tiananmen Square
Lonna Lisa Williams poses with some Chinese girls in Tiananmen Square
Lonna Lisa Williams poses with an elderly Chinese couple in Tiananmen Square
Lonna Lisa Williams poses with an elderly Chinese couple in Tiananmen Square
A Chinese soldier mingles with the crowd in Tiananmen Square
A Chinese soldier mingles with the crowd in Tiananmen Square
A portrait of Chairman Mao near the old Tiananmen Gate  entrance to the Forbidden City
A portrait of Chairman Mao near the old Tiananmen Gate, entrance to the Forbidden City
Tourists leave Tiananmen Square to pass beneath the famous gate to the Forbidden City
Tourists leave Tiananmen Square to pass beneath the famous gate to the Forbidden City
More about Tiananmen square, Beijing, China, Soldiers, Statues
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