Monday, July 24, 2006

China Stories Pt 17: The Square

After President Bush left town, everything settled down for awhile. I went to class, hung out with my classmates, taught my little English class. I did the normal stuff you're supposed to do (as opposed to working for CBS News and spending 18 hours a day with two dozen Beijing taxi drivers).

I did a little local sight-seeing: visiting the local Tibeten buddhist lamasery (Yong He Gong by name), riding my big-ass Flying Pigeon socialist bicycle out to the Summer Palace, and the Old Summer Palace. (The new one was quite an upgrade - it included a marble boat on the lake out front. A boat. Made out of marble.) I went to the Forbidden City where China's Emperors had lived. I went to Jing Shan park behind the Forbidden City where, if I remember correctly, the last Emperor of the Ming dynasty fled and hanged himself. This would have been in 1644. (The hanging part. I was there in 1989.)

I went to Tian An Men Square with Bob. He took the picture of me that you saw earlier.

Seeing the square for the first time was exciting. As I got close to it, I was slightly giddy with anticipation. In front of me I could see - sky. The unbroken skyline could only mean that there was a large expanse of open space ahead.

I'd seen pictures. I'd pictured it in my head many times. The giant portrait of Chairman Mao staring placidly out across the square. Finally, I was there.

Tian An Men Square was awe-inspiring. It's enormous, and it's surrounded by giant austere granite buildings. To the west, the Great Hall of the People- the seat of the government of the People's Republic of China. To the east, the Museum of the Chinese Revolution. To the north, the Tian An Men Gate* (after which the square is named) and the Forbidden City. And to the south, Chairman Mao's mausoleum.** Tian An Men Square is imposing, and its location, its physical and political context, give it added gravitas. Its scale makes the individual feel tiny and insignificant.

This is not an accident.

*Beijing is laid out very logically and geometrically - and has been for hundreds of years. From north to south and east to west across the city, there are gates that are all aligned with each other, and aligned with - I can't remember, I think astronomical observations. I could have looked it up, but that might have compromised my blog's sense of spontaneity and immediacy. Also? "Men" means gate, as in "Gate of Heavenly Peace." So Tian An Men Gate means "Gate of Heavenly Peace Gate."

**Yes, of course I called it the Mao's-o-leum. I couldn't pass that up.


At 10:46 AM, Anonymous Whinger said...

Still loving the China stories.

Just FYI.

At 12:57 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Me too!

Keep going.

At 6:00 PM, Blogger Jenny said...


At 6:36 PM, Anonymous sweetone said...

this is awesome. i love your description of the square. i read a book not long ago about the beijing student movement in 1989 so it's fascinating to read this and very cool to see the photo. it made me realize i'd never seen a photo of it that wasn't from the time of the demonstrations. this is just so cool. thanks for writing it all out! (and i will try not to comment on every single post as i read your story backwards!)

At 9:47 PM, Blogger Ish said...

No, please comment! Come back!


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