Before I even stepped foot into Tiananmen Square, I was unsure how I would feel about it. Clearly its reputation precedes it and who could forget the horror of what happened there in June 1989. That aside, it’s a significant location in Chinese history so I think I was rather obliged to visit.
Walking into Tiananmen Square, I was immediately reminded I was in a communist country. You suddenly feel a lot smaller and sort of insignificant. It’s a weird feeling. I’m not sure if it was because of the sheer size of this vast open square, the fact the square is lined by large and ominous government buildings, the presence of Chinese flags and soldiers everywhere or maybe it was the giant portrait of Chairman Mao seemingly staring back at you wherever you walked.
In Tiananmen Square, I also had my first proper taste of being a ‘Western celebrity’. I couldn’t stand still longer than about 30 seconds before someone would approach me asking if they could have their photo taken with me. One lady even came up with her young son, put his hand in mine and beckoned over a professional-looking photographer! That little boy was super cute though and I didn’t want to let go of his hand. As a local later told me, a lot of tourists in Beijing, particularly in places like Tiananmen Square, are from other parts of China, usually quite rural parts, where they most likely have never seen a White person before, either in real life or in the media.
I was almost paranoid that people in the Square could read my mind or something! Just as well they couldn’t because I found it hard to forget what bloody things had happened in the Square. How could any government, legitimate or otherwise, justify what they did to those innocent people or, more to the point, censor it out from their version of history? How many people in China knew the real version of events that summer? I suddenly got a bit of a fright because whilst thinking this, a soldier came up to me and asked how old I was and if he could see my passport. I totally have a guilt complex and started to sweat a bit, however managed not to confess to anything I hadn’t done.
I’m not sure why, but I was kind of perplexed that there was nowhere in Tiananmen Square to sit. It’s such a huge open area but not a single seat. People just sit on the floor instead. I guess it’s hardly a joyful green park to sit on a bench and watch the world go by. It kind of feels deliberate people are reminded of some higher power that keeps people moving and prevents them from relaxing as much as possible. Maybe it’s something to do with respect as well since Tiananmen Square is a revered place. Or maybe I’m just overthinking things.
Stating the obvious but there isn’t anything to do in Tiananmen Square itself other than people watch or just walk through it. (Or if you’re Caucasian, you’ll be the one being watched!). Definitely somewhere you have to visit whilst in Beijing though, even if it is a slightly cold and eerie feeling place. Certainly a unique experience.