Beijing: Tiananmen Square (Post #9).

This post is about the two times I’ve been to Tiananmen Square 天安门. The first time I went there, it was just to look at the environment of the square during sunset. The second time, I went early in the morning to see the Mausoleum of Maozedong. Today, I will be going there for the third time with the UCEAP program for I-don’t-know-what.

First visit:

We exited the subway stop at Tiananmen East 天安门东。 It was around 6pm, and we were on our way to Lao She Tea House 老舍茶馆。

Okay… Sorry to change the subject for one quick second, but I simply cannot stand seeing Simplified Chinese characters if I’m not using it academically. This blog will continue to use Traditional Chinese for [hopefully] eternity.

Tiananmen: 天安門
Tiananmen East: 天安門東
Lao She Tea House: 老舍茶館

Upon walking out, we were in front of Mao’s portrait. Gates fenced off the entrance with guards holding position.

This scene struck me powerfully.

On the other side of the street was the Square with many civilians waiting for the flag lowering ceremony to begin. The flag is raised and lowered according to the official time of sunrise and sunset. On that day, it was to be lowered at 7:37pm.

The square in the evening.

We ended up staying here for over half an hour. I felt particularly somber and encapsulated just thinking about the historical significance of this place. I was staying in the same place that students once demonstrated. I was standing on the same streets where the military had advanced on protesters. The same place where tanks rolled in.

I actually spent most of my time looking at the flag and the Square, as the image looked so strong. Kaitlyn, John, Tara and I weren’t talking much; I think we were all deep in our thoughts.

Second visit:

A group consisting of Stephanie, Karina, Christy, William, Kelly, Chris and I went to Tiananmen Square to see the Mausoleum of Mao Zedong. We arrived at 9am in the morning to see 100,000+ people already in the square. There was a line spanning 3-6 people wide, a couple miles of length, all waiting to see Mao’s body.

To see the body, everyone had to wear proper attire. Men couldn’t wear shorts; nobody was allowed to wear sandals; no hats were allowed; shirts must have sleeves. The group of us all brought our passports, for proper ID was required for entry. No cameras and bags were allowed as well, so we had to rent a locker to put our stuff inside. Reinforcement was strict, as there were guards aggressively yelling and pulling people out of line who violated these rules.

The line zigzagged through the entire square. We visited Mao on a very hot and humid day, so everyone was sweaty and sticky. A lot of people were selling popsicles for 2¥ each, which is 4x higher than other sellers across the street. The line really never stopped moving, so there was no rest time.

After about 1.5 hours of constantly moving in line, we finally got to the Mausoleum. We went through a security checkpoint with a metal detector and presented our ID. Flower shops sold white flowers to whoever wanted to pay respects to Mao. Afterward, we entered the building.

Once we entered the building, no talking was allowed. The first room showed a gigantic statue of Mao sitting in a chair, equivalent in size to Lincoln’s Memorial. A ton of people dropped off their flowers at his footsteps and prayed to him.

In the second room was Mao’s casket. Standing on both of his sides were two armed guards standing perfectly still. His face was lit up while the rest of his body was covered with the crossed hammer-and-sickle flag.

Altogether, each person was able to see his preserved body for 20-30 seconds. No one was allowed to stop, for that would hold up the rest of the line. If I had to guess, well over one million people saw his body every day.

Next post: Lao She Tea House.

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