From the National Centre for the Performing Arts, Tiananmen Square was just a short leisurely walk. This 440,000 sq. m., 880 m. by 500 m. city square, the largest in the world (it can accommodate 600,000 people), lies between 2 ancient, massive gates: the Tian’anmen Gate (after whom the square was named) to the north (it separates it from the Forbidden City) and the Zhengyangmen, (better known as Qianmen) Gate to the south. Designed and built in 1651, the square has since been enlarged 4 times its original size in the 1950s.
The square has great cultural significance as it was the site of several key events in Chinese history such as the May Fourth Movement (1919); the proclamation of the People’ Republic of China by Mao Zedong (October 1, 1949); the annual mass military displays on all subsequent National Days until October 1, 1959; the military parades for the 35th (1984), 50th (1999) and 60th (2009) anniversaries of the People’s Republic of China, and the Tiananmen Protests in 1976 (after the death of premier Zhou Enlai) and 1989.
The square is flanked by the National Museum of China (dedicated to Chinese history predating 1919) on the east and the Great Hall of the People on the west. On the main north-south axis of the square is the Mao Zedong Mausoleum, built near the site of the former Gate of China (demolished in the 1950s) upon Mao’s death in 1976.
On its southern edge is the 38 m. (125-ft.) high Monument to the People’s Heroes, built in memory of the martyrs who laid down their lives for the revolutionary struggles of the Chinese people during the 19th and 20th centuries. The monument, constructed from August 1952 to May 1958, was designed by Architect Liang Sicheng, with some elements designed by his wife, Lin Huiyin. The monument weighs over 10,000 metric tons and contains about 17,000 pieces of marble and granite from Qingdao, Shandong Province and Fangshan District outside Beijing.
Tiananmen Square is open, with no trees or benches. However, trees line its east and west edges. The square is lit with large lampposts which are fitted with video cameras.
Tiananmen Square and 6 other places in Beijing were selected as “red tourist” sites by the State Tourism Administration as part of a “red tourism” program aimed at boosting tourism in former revolutionary bases. Being a regular tourist destination, the square was filled with tourists and the occasional columns of precision-marching soldiers in their familiar green uniforms.