Tiananmen Square, BeijingBy Dave • March 5th, 2008
Chaiman Mao is everywhere in China. Not as a venerated icon, you understand, but as a tourist nick-nack. The Little Red Book has been translated into English, French and German, and you can buy Mao wristwatches at virtually every market stall. My favourite was the Mao watch whose second-hand was Maoâ€™s arm, giving the illusion that the deceased chairman was waving manically.
Perhaps the only in-the-wild examples of Mao are the giant portrait in Tiananmen Square, and the actual corpse a few hundred metres south. The mausoleum (or Maosoleum, as we chucklingly called it) closes around midday, and our indifferent approach to alarm clocks meant we missed both days we were there. So it was that our world tour of dead communist leaders went unfinished.
Still, thereâ€™s always Tiananmen Square. Itâ€™s huge; fitting for a country of extraordinary military might and home to more than one billion people. The north end is home to the Forbidden City and the familiar, huge Mao portrait (heâ€™s still somewhat venerated by the people, apparently). Southwards there are a few museums.
Tiananmen Square is bright, open, and full of tourists and helpful police. More than once while we were in China, strangers dashed up to us and thrust their friends between us to take a picture of the weirdos who had come all the way from Europe. Eventually, we started to retaliate by taking pictures of them.
The Square is so modern and touristy, in fact, that itâ€™s easy to forget that only twenty years ago, the Chinese government killed maybe 2,000 of its own people. Dissent had been growing for weeks, eventually leading to widespread protests in the square. The government crackdown was violent and unexpected; many of the dead were students. Kate Adieâ€™s book, The Kindness of Strangers, describes how the foreign correspondent was forced to hide in the lanes and alleys surrounding the square, and her horrific visit to the Beijing hospital treating the wounded.
Itâ€™s quite possible that while we were there we walked through those same streets; but itâ€™s impossible to say, because the Chinese refuse to mention the massacre in Tiananmen Square. Thereâ€™s not so much as a commemorative plaque to remember the dead, and, shamefully, Google.cn (under the laughable corporate motto â€œDonâ€™t Be Evilâ€) used to censor search results that would turn up images or pages describing the 1989 massacre. It doesnâ€™t seem as bad now, and itâ€™s worth pointing out that we loved China; it seems a pity to mention Tiananmen Square. But someone has to.
Dave didnâ€™t much care for the Chinese art studentsâ€™ work, either, but there you are. More pictures in the Flickr set.
Linksalarm clocks, beijing hospital, china, chinese government, communist leaders, corpse, dissent, english french, forbidden city, foreign correspondent, government crackdown, kate adie, kindness of strangers, mao, market stall, mausoleum, midday, one billion, tiananmen square, weirdos, wristwatches