Travel Reference
In-Depth Information
Though it was designed as a space for mass declarations of loyalty, Tian'anmen Square
has as often been a venue for expressions of popular dissent . The first mass protests here
occurred on May 4, 1919, when students gathered in the area to demonstrate against the
disastrous terms of the Treaty of Versailles, under which the victorious Allies granted sev-
eral former German concessions in China to the Japanese. The protests, and the movement
they spawned, marked the beginning of the painful struggle for Chinese modernization. In
1925, the inhabitants of Beijing again occupied the square, to protest over the massacre in
Shanghai of Chinese demonstrators by British troops. Angered at the weak government's
capitulation to the Japanese, protesters marched on government offices the following year,
and were fired on by soldiers.
The first time the square became the focus of outcry in the communist era was in 1976,
when thousands assembled here, without government approval, to voice their dissatisfac-
tion with their leaders; in 1978 and 1979, large numbers came to discuss new ideas of
democracy and artistic freedom, triggered by writings posted along “Democracy Wall” on
the edge of the Forbidden City. People gathered again in 1986 and 1987, demonstrating
against the Party's refusal to allow limited municipal elections to be held. But it was in
1989 that Tian'anmen Square became the venue for the largest expression of popular dis-
sent in China in the twentieth century; from April to June of that year, nearly a million
protesters demonstrated against the slow pace of reform, lack of civil liberties and wide-
spread corruption. The government, infuriated at being humiliated by their own people,
declared martial law on May 20, and on June 4 the military moved into the square. The
ensuing killing was indiscriminate; tanks ran over tents and machine guns strafed the av-
enues. No one knows exactly how many demonstrators died in the massacre - probably
thousands. Hundreds were arrested afterwards and some remain in jail, though others have
since joined the administration.
These days the square is occasionally the venue for small protests by foreigners or mem-
bers of the cultish, religious sect FalunGong - hence the many closed-circuit TV cameras
and large numbers of Public Security Bureau men, not all in uniform.
Monument to the People's Heroes
Towards the northern end of the square is the Monument to the People's Heroes , a 38m-
high obelisk commemorating the victims of the revolutionary struggle. Its foundations were
laid on October 1, 1949, the day that the establishment of the People's Republic was an-
nounced. Bas-reliefs illustrate key scenes from China's revolutionary history; one of these,
on the east side, shows the Chinese burning British opium in the nineteenth century. The cal-
ligraphy on the front is a copy of Mao Zedong's handwriting and reads “Eternal glory to the
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