Thursday's Child: Tiananmen Square, Beijing

Thursday, May 30, 2013
I didn't know what to expect when we visited Tiananmen Square in March, 2008.  It's one of the largest public squares in the world and, although it has been home to a number of events, most of us likely associate it with the anti-government protests of June 1989.  Anyone who has seen the photos of Tank Man (the lone dissident who stood up against a column of tanks) is unlikely to forget the image, or the tragedy that ensued as hundreds - and perhaps thousands - of peaceful protesters were killed.
Great Hall of the People
Taken from Tiananmen Square
I've always said that travel helps me understand the world, and that is often true.  But it was hard to wrap our heads around this one.  Our Chinese tour guide told us she had no idea those events even happened until her international tourists filled her in.

Here are a few bare facts about Tiananmen Square: it leads directly into Beijing's Forbidden City; it was originally built in the seventeenth century, but was significantly expanded in the 1950's; although we didn't feel unsafe, it had a much stronger police presence than anywhere else in the city.  Also, 'Tiananmen' is translated as 'The Gate of Heavenly Peace'.

Naturally, our views were impacted by its history.  I asked my oldest daughter what she remembered about our visit, and she said, "It was hard to believe the site of so much tragedy could be so unmarked."

I assumed she meant there were no plaques or signs to commemorate it.  She agreed, but said it was more than that.  "I couldn't believe such an ordinary looking square could have been home to such violence.  It made me realize tragedy could happen anywhere."

"If my art has nothing to do with people's pain and sorrow, what is 'art' for?"
- Ai Weiwei, Chinese artist and political activist

16 comments:

Andrea_TheKitchenLioness said...

Beth, what an imprssive vivit that must have been - to be able to visit Tiananmen Square must certainly have been quite special! And your pictures are very impressive - and I do love the quote by Ai Weiwei, something to ponder over this late Thursday evening!

Natalie Aguirre said...

Okay, this is the one place you've been that I have too. Your pictures bring back so many memories. It was really cold when we were there so the soldiers weren't out. You're right. It's weird being there knowing what's happened there in the past.

Belinda said...

That seems so long ago, yet...I remember seeing the plaster statues and thinking...huh?

GratefulPrayerThankfulHeart said...

Seeing your photos and the comments your daughter made me remember the events that happened there. Amazing that your tour guide did not know.

Barbara said...

I doubt the Chinese government would ever commemorate the event. 1989 was an entirely different generation as well, so it doesn't surprise me your guide didn't know about it before tourists told her.
Nice photos, Beth.

Liz Berg said...

I am so envious of your trip to China! The hubby does not want to travel to Asia....but I have a feeling I will make it one day. How interesting that your tour guide learned of the tank man from tourists...hard to wrap my head around how things work over there. Wow.
PS. thanks for your kind words of condolence. xo

yummychunklet said...

Very awesome photos!

Guru Uru said...

Thanks for the tour my friend, what a beautiful place :D

Cheers
Choc Chip Uru

bakewithjill.com said...

Wow, that would be an incredible place to visit. It's so interesting that the tour guide wasn't aware of the same things that the tourists were.

Jess said...

What a powerful sense of history and loss. Your daughter's words were very wise. Thanks for sharing another incredible place your family has visited!

Angie Schneider said...

Wonder how she became a tour guide if she didn't know about what had been happening there....thanks for sharing, Beth.

Martina at Adventures in YA Publishing said...

That is a powerful observation about ordinary places and tragedy. It sounds like an incredible visit, and I have no doubt it will shape who your daughter becomes. She already sounds like a great and thoughtful soul. Thanks for sharing the pics and emotions!

Patty Price said...

Beth- I can't believe all the interesting exotic places you've visited..well, I guess I can believe it but I sure do find it impressive!!! Always an interesting story to go with your photos-thanks for sharing ;-)

Monet said...

I imagine that it was a haunting experience to visit the square. Those images have been implanted on the minds of generations. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and these photographs. We hope to get to China eventually. So much rich history and culture there!

Valerie said...

Your travels and stories are always so insightful! No wonder your daughters are so brilliant and wise. :) Beautiful photos.

nancy at good food matters said...

we visited Tiananmen Square in 2001 and had a similar experience--it was a place so Absent of feeling that spoke volumes about the political regard of the event.

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