My 5: Tiananmen Square, Beijing.

Tiananmen Square Beijing

1. September 2018. I very nearly didn’t make it into Tiananmen Square. I’d stupidly forgotten all about the security checkpoints and when the steely-faced guard told me: “pass-a-port”I felt a cold chill run down the back of my neck. But then, as luck would have it, I realized it was tucked in the top pouch of my rucksack. Phew. And so into the square I strode, gazing across the vast stone space that stands as Beijing’s most iconic landmark. Many people who come here find Tiananmen disappointingly uneventful. It’s just a big, empty square, right? Uh huh. I’m not sure what exactly they’d been expecting.

Tiananmen Square north end facing Gate of Heavenly Peace Beijing

2. September 2018. For me though it was easy to get swept up in Tiananmen’s tangible sense of history. After all, this was the site of the great anti-imperialist protests of 1919 and where, in 1949, Chairman Mao proclaimed The People’s Republic of China. And of course it’s impossible not to think of 1989 and blurry images of gunfire, tanks and a lone man’s unwavering bravery in the face of imminent annihilation. Today though Tiananmen is the source of much pride and patriotic fervor and for the Chinese a visit here is a very special occasion. This is the square’s northern end, which directly faces The Forbidden City’s Gate of Heavenly Peace.

Group photo Tiananmen Square Beijing

3. September 2018. A big part of Tiananmen’s appeal, from a foreign perspective, is simply watching all the families, couples and groups take their photos. Companies will often choose the square for their annual day out and teambuilding events. The more dedicated of these groups will come here at sunrise for the daily flag-raising ceremony. Crowds also gather at sunset when the flag goes down.

Tiananmen Square east side National Museum of China Beijing

4. September 2018. There’s a handful of amusing snack buses peppered around the square. They also sell communist trinkets and patriotic souvenirs. This bus, parked on Tiananmen’s east side, sits in front of The National Museum of China. Said to be the third largest national museum in the world, there are five floors and around fifty exhibitions that attempt to do justice what is nearly two million years of history. The museum is free to enter daily (except Mondays) from 09:00-16:30. Again, make sure that ID is handy!

5. September 2018. Visually Tiananmen is a largely sobering, stone gray affair, but there is an explosion of color lining the eastern side with a row of beautifully arranged flower beds. It was here that I caught sight of a cheerful man drawing in spectators with his kite waving. But the frivolity was soon put to a stop by a security guard who demanded to see his ID before telling him to put his kite away. The building on the square’s western side is The Great Hall of The People, home to The National People’s Congress. With over 300 meeting halls and a 10,000-seat auditorium, you can tour the place as long as there are no special events going on. Entrance is 30RMB (£3.40/€3.80/$4.40) and opening times vary throughout the year, so check ahead of your visit. Passport, passport, passport!!!

For more on the Tiananmen area, have a read of My 5 on The Forbidden City.

Like this? Check out my many other 5s from across Beijing.

Want to delve further afield? I’ve written stacks of articles from all over China.

Leighton Literature travel reports short stories travel blogger

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Freelance travel writer, voice over and English teacher from London. Former music and film journalist, interviewer of the stars. Passionate about travel, film, music, football, Indian food.

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