Tiananmen Square


Tiananmen Square is the large plaza near the center of Beijing, China, named after the Tiananmen (literally, Gate of Heavenly Peace) which sits to its north, separating it from the Forbidden City. It has great cultural significance as a symbol because it was the site of several key events in Chinese history (See below: Events). Outside of China, the square is widely known for the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989.

The square covers 40.5 hectares (100 acres), which makes it the largest open-urban square in the world.


The Tiananmen Gate was first built in the 1420s in the Ming Dynasty. During the demise of the Ming Dynasty, heavy fighting between Li Zicheng and the early Qing emperors damaged (or perhaps destroyed) the gate. The Tiananmen square was originally designed and built in Beijing in 1651. It was enlarged to its present size (four times its original size) and cemented over in 1958.

British and French troops who invaded Beijing in 1860 pitched camp near the gate and briefly considered burning the gate and the entire Forbidden City down. They decided ultimately to preserve the palace and to burn instead the emperor's Summer Palace. The Qing emperor eventually agreed to let the foreign powers establish headquarters in the area. During the Boxer Rebellion of 1900 the siege badly damaged the office complexes and several ministries were burnt down. In the conflict's denouement, the area became a space for foreign troops to assemble their armies and horses. It was cleared in due course to produce the beginning of what is now known as the Tiananmen Square. The Square, however, was not officially made until the PRC took power in 1949.

Near the centre of today's square, close to the site of the Mao Zedong Mausoleum, once stood one of the most important gates of Beijing. This gate was known as the "Great Ming Gate" (大明门) during the Ming Dynasty, "Great Qing Gate" (大清门) during the Qing Dynasty, and "Gate of China" (中华门) during the Republic of China era. Unlike the other gates in Beijing, such as the Tiananmen and the Qianmen, this was a purely ceremonial gateway, with three arches but no ramparts, similar in style to the ceremonial gateways found in the Ming Dynasty Tombs. This gate had a special status as the "Gate of the Nation", as can be seen from its successive names. It normally remained closed, except when the Emperor passed through. Commoner traffic was diverted to two side gates at the northern and eastern ends of today's square, respectively. Because of this diversion in traffic, a busy marketplace, called Chessgrid Streets (棋盘街) developed in the big, fenced square to the south of this gate. In the early 1950s, the Gate of China (as it was then known) was demolished along with the Chessgrid Streets to the south, completing the expansion of Tiananmen Square to (approximately) its current size.


Used as a massive gathering place since its inception, its flatness is broken only by the 38-metre (125 ft) high Monument to the People's Heroes completed in 1958, and the Mausoleum of Mao Zedong completed in 1977 . The square lies between two ancient, massive gates: the Tian'anmen to the north and the Zhengyangmen, better known as Qianmen to the south. Along the west side of the Square is the Great Hall of the People. Along the east side is the National Museum of China (dedicated to Chinese history predating 1919). Chang'an Avenue, which is used for parades, lies between the Tian'anmen and the Square. Trees line the east and west edges of the Square, but the square itself is open, with neither trees nor benches. The Square is lit with huge lampposts which also sport video cameras. It is heavily monitored by uniformed and plain clothes policemen.


Tiananmen Square has been the site of a number of political events and student protests. These include the proclamation of the People's Republic of China by Mao Zedong on October 1, 1949; annual mass military displays on all subsequent National Days until October 1st 1959; the 1984 military parade for the 35th anniversary of the People's Republic of China and the 50th anniversary in 1999; and for mass rallies during the Cultural Revolution.

The site has also played host to a series of demonstrations by authorities in power, including the Allied Army's Victory March in 1900 celebrating their occupation of Beijing after the Boxer Rebellion, the grand march of Gen. Zhang Xun on June 1917 in remembrance of his restoration of imperial order, the institution of the puppet regime under Japanese rule, the parade of Republican troops on the recapture of Beijing, as well as the "elaborate National Day parade shortly after the People's Liberation Army blood-washed the Square in 1989.

It has also been the site of a number of protest movements.

The protests of 1989 resulted in the massacre of Chinese protesters in the streets to the west of the square and adjacent areas. Reporter Charlie Cole was savagely beaten by Chinese secret police there at the time, who also used a cattle prod on him. They thought they had taken all of his film, but he was able to get some pictures out of the country, including a famous Tank Man photo. Cole believes that the man who bravely stood in front of the tank was executed after the secret police grabbed him, since the Chinese government was unable to produce him after the public outcry over his photo. After Chinese troops opened fire on the pro-democracy crowds, he reports people with carts carrying wounded and dead people down the avenue. He counted up to 64 wounded and dead before he got tired of counting. Early in the morning of June 4, Mr. Cole saw tanks running over vehicles and humans with their treads. Some Western reporters who were on the square during the unfolding events reported that they saw no one actually die on the square itself, though they did see bloodied people but could not confirm whether they were either dead or injured. According to initial reports from the Chinese Red Cross, there were 2,600 casualties. Following pressure from the Chinese government this number was soon revoked. According to the Chinese government, the "official figure is 241 dead, including soldiers, and 7,000 wounded". However, Chinese expatriates who left the country after the killings said that the total number of deaths ended up being in the thousands. This was a combination of the hundreds killed on the spot and the "miniature" purges that followed. Estimates outside of China vary greatly. A declassified NSA document mentioned casualty estimates of 180 to 500, while NATO estimates upwards of 6,000 civilian deaths.



  • Spence, Jonathan. "The Gate and the Square". Morning Sun. accessed 13 March 2008. .
  • Human Rights in China (Organization). Children of the dragon : the story of Tianamen Square. New York/London: Collier Books ;Collier Macmillan Publishers, 1990.
  • Wu, Hung. "Tiananmen Square: A Political History of Monuments." Representations 35 (Summer 1991): 84-117.
  • Wu, Hung. Remaking Beijing : Tiananmen Square and the creation of a political space. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005.

Images from near and in the square

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