Thursday, June 14, 2007

People's Square

I had a great day at one of the most famous, and perhaps also notorius, places in Beijing - Tian An Men Square and the Forbidden City - once the home of China's emperors.

The notoriety that Tian An Men Square acquired was quite recent - 1989 to be exact, when hordes of Chinese congregated onto the vast Square to agitate for democracy. China was just only recently being opened up to the world, but this demonstration was too much for the authorities. The result was that the Chinese government sent in the tanks to disperse the crowd and sent Zhao Ziyang, then-Secretary General of the Chinese Communist Party, political exile for sympathizing with the demonstrators. He never recovered his political position - he died in 17 January 2005 - still under virtual house arrest.

Today, the Tian An Men Square incident, dubbed 6-4 (because it fell on June 4) - when the crackdown by the Chinese Authorities broke up the demonstration and arrested key student leaders - is still being remember by thousands of pro-democracy people, particularly in Hong Kong SAR. Today, this Square is peaceful which belie that June 4 day. A Mao Tse-Tung (or Mao Zedong) Memorial - formally named the "Chairman Mao Memorial" - is being renovated to honour the founding father of Communist China, and no doubt in preparation for the Beijing Olympics in 2008, when the world will descend on Beijing.

The square is patrolled by the Police (Gong-An), but there is nothing sinister in this. The Gong An do not look intimidating at all - they are there to preserve order, which is well and good. The Square is huge and surrounded on all sides by Roman-columned Buildings - the National Museum, Chairman Mao Memorial, the People's Parliament Building, and not least of all, the Forbidden City (Gugong), which was the home of Chinese emperors for over 500 years. The last emperor - Pu Yi, was only 3 when he ascended the throne and was kicked out at 5 when the Han Chinese overthrew the Qing dynasty, first in Wuchang (in Wuhan) in 1911 and subseqently gathered speed in other parts of China.

Although the nationalist Kuomingtang (KMT) took over where the Qing Empire left off, it didn't quite consolidate China until the Communist Party of Chairman Mao Zedong came along. In 1948, the Communist Party of China constituted a united China. The KMT had to settle for the island of Taiwan. These and similar twists and turns in the history of China demonstrate the truth of the saying:

"The empire, long divided, must unite; long united, must divide" - (Luo Guanzhong, circa 1600 during the Ming Dynasty, writing in Three Kingdoms)

Picture: Monument to the Heroes. Situtated in the middle of the Square.

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