Tiananmen Square: The Good and the Terrible

Mao’s creation lies at the heart of Beijing, a massive stone desert providing a scenic entrance to the Forbidden City. A playground for children to run wild, laughingly spinning in circles and flying brightly colored dragon flags. A haven for hand in hand couples, perhaps a first date for the young or a long dreamy of vacation for the elderly. A sanctuary for solitude, for quiet studying or a time for reading or deep thought. It’s a grand sight held in secret awe by one and all.

Cara and I awoke before dawn to witness the notorious flag raising ceremony performed at sunrise. (Let me again remind you how cold it was running across our courtyard to the bathrooms at this time of the morning.) However, this was an event deemed by the Lonely Planet as one not to miss. The ceremony is marched by a squad of PLA soldiers drilled to precisely march at 108 steps per minute. Then they play some loud music that I couldn’t understand followed by a bunch of clapping – mostly by the over-eager Asian tourist groups with their florescent caps and plastic flags (yes, they were there too). The whole scenario was a bit disappointing, possibly because the square was overtaken by the above mentioned individuals. We thought the square would be almost deserted at this time of morning. Apparently, older people can hop out of bed just as spryly as we young’uns and we were left to stand on tip-toe behind hordes of bright eyed viewers. The wall of black hair didn’t leave much to the imagination. We snapped a few pictures and decided to crawl sleepily back onto the #22 bus and go back to bed for a few hours.

Though a spell-binding site, I was also reminded of the atrocity that took place in the square in 1989. Student-led demonstrations, calling for a more democratic government following the death of Communist Party leader Hu Yaobang, gathered throughout the streets of Beijing. Hu, a symbol of democratic reform, had worked to move China toward a more open political system. Over weeks of protest, thousands of people join the students in Tiananmen Square to protest against China’s Communist rulers until they were forcibly suppressed by the Chinese government who declared martial law on June 4, 1989. This led to the Tiananmen Square Massacre when Chinese troops arrived at the square with guns and tanks and killed several hundred demonstrators.

Since that time, the Chinese government has tried to conceal the events that unfolded that June and also evokes an extensive censorship for online users. Information about the attacks is rigorously blocked from China’s residents. One can’t even use the search term “Tiananmen Square” as well as related and phrases.

It’s ridiculous and only one of the many reasons why I’m torn about my experiences in China thus far. On one hand, I love learning about new cultures, and with that comes learning and understanding the government and social systems; however, when I witness such atrocities, it can be difficult to feel comfortable with contributing money to Chinese tourism.