|It was on the gate tower of Tian An Men that Chairman Mao Tsedong proclaimed the founding of the People"s Republic of China. A great number of important political events of this century were staged on the Tian An Men Square. It is beyond the shadow of a doubt that Tian An Men holds an immeasurably high position in the heart of every Chinese who is fervently patriotic and is determined to do his/her utmost for the development and prosperity of his/her motherland. By its uniquely eminent place in New China, Tian An Men commands in this country universal respect and support.|
In 1959, for the celebration of the tenth anniversary of the founding of the People"s Republic of China, Tian An Men underwent restructuring on a large scale. The red walls on three sides were all dismantled; the east and west wings were expanded to become thoroughfares. The Museum of the history of Revolution and the Great Hall of the People stand lofty and majestic on the east and west side respectively, with the Monument to the People"s Heroes towering in the middle. The place which was formerly used exclusively by monarchs for holding ceremonies and reviewing the army is now open to the public and has become a genuine people"s square. It covers an area of 54 hectares and can accommodate five hundred thousand people for engaging in a collective activity. It is thus the largest and peerless pubic square in the whole world. Anyone who goes there cannot but marvel at its grandeur, solemnity, magnificence and magnitude. In comparison with it, the so-called squares in many cities of Western countries only deserve the title of "street corner". The size of the mammoth city of Beijing is typically represented by Tian An Men and the Tian An Men Square.
Forbidden city and Beijing
When you look at the city map of Beijing, the first impression you will get may be that Beijing has an enormous number of gates. As a matter of fact, most of these gates are now physically nonexistent. They were dismantled a long time ago. Although the gate names are now only "nominal" titles, yet, ironically, these nominal titles have become in fact "immortal". Those Beijing old-timers who have no clear memory of the physical appearance of the gates are really few and rare. Even the outlanders who never saw the real gates before may have repeated their names so often as to feel vaguely their physical presence. The reason is that the main roads in the central area of Beijing are almost all named by means of using these gate names (plus a word indicating the geographical direction, i.e. out, in, East, West, South, or North ). The names may be, for example, the Front Gate Big Street, the Front Gate Westward Big Street, the Front Gate Eastward Big Street, the Fuxing Gate Outward Big Street,...Inward Big Street,....Southward Big Street,...Northward Big Street, the Jianguo Gate Outward Big Street, etc.
Therefore, people say that when you have come to Beijing and want to find a certain place, you must, first of all, find the Gate.
If you know you are in the vicinity of a certain Gate and the place you are seeking is close to that Gate, you will not lose your way in any case. Furthermore, if you ask the way in Beijing, the Beijing inhabitants will often tell you that the place is near a certain Gate or you should go to such and such a Gate. Therefore, though gates are rarely seen as a physical entity in Beijing, they will not be "strangers" to you. On the contrary, you will feel that they are quite close and intimate to you.
The city of Beijing in the era of the Ming and Qing dynasties was a "city of cities", because it was made up of three layers of city wall or, in other words, three concentric city walls. The innermost circle of this city of cities was what is commonly called the "Forbidden City" or "Palace City". Its wall was 6 li (3,000 meters) in circumference and has four gates, namely the Front Gate, the Gate of Divine Prowess, the Eastern Gate and the Western Gate. The central or second circle was the wall of the imperial city, which was 18 li (9,000 meters) in circumference and also had four gates, namely the Heavenly Peace Gate (Tian An Men), the Earthly Peace Gate, the Eastern Peace Gate and Western Peace Gate. The outmost circle was the capital city wall, which was a two-layer wall. The inner city wall was 46 li (23,000 meters) in circumference and had nine gates. The central gate was most lofty and magnificent and served only for the emperors to enter and leave the capital. The well-known city of Beijing is in reality made up of these layers of brick walls and ponderous iron gates.
Many interesting stories have been told about Beijing. They are inseparably bound up with the city walls, the gates and Tian An Men. For instance, there is a story about the famous army commander General Nian Gengyao of the Qing Dynasty in connection with Tian An Men. One day General Nian returned in triumph with his soldiers from an expedition. He and all the soldiers were received by Emperor Yongzheng at the Tian An Men square. It was very hot, though there was not much sunlight. In order to show his kindness, the emperor ordered the soldiers to take off their hats. His order was ignored. Then General Nian gave the order for him. At one upward stroke of his arm all the soldiers instantly removed their hats. The emperor was greatly alarmed. For this and for some other reasons, which were also connected with General Nian"s relationship with the emperor and with a drama formerly staged in the Palace concerning the right of succession to the throne, which is well-known to people versed in the history of China, General Nian was stripped of his power by the emperor and demoted step by step to the rank of a common soldier and ordered to commit suicide at last.
Aristocratic family of Qing Dynasty
There are also intriguing stories about the development of culture of China connected with the city of Beijing. They are undoubtedly worthy of exploration by people interested in the history and culture of China.
Some people say that the study of the culture of Beijing should begin from the Beijing inhabitants or old-timers. They assert that Beijing old-timers are mostly common people and that they have a common man"s trait of simplicity and straightforwardness. There is no gainsaying this point. But how large a percentage of the population is constituted by the descendants of aristocracy? It is often said that Beijing dwellers observe the traditional festival days, such as the Dragon Boat Festival and the Mid-autumn Festival. This is true. But how large a proportion of Beijing inhabitants also celebrate Christmas and Valentine Day? Has anybody gone to the trouble of making statistical surveys of these cultural phenomena? It is claimed that the Beijing people are simple and easygoing, but they generally have an aristocratic air, which they have had since childhood. This assertion seems to be self-contradictory, for it is highly improbable that a person can put on airs and be easygoing at the same time. Furthermore, the common man of Beijing is said to be very humorous, but they donĄŻt make fun of other people by using vulgar expressions. Of course, the common man should have a sense of humor. But why should he make fun of other people, even if in a way that smacks of good breeding? Some people have answered these questions by saying that the culture of Beijing manifests plebeian interests of an aristocratic air or, on the contrary, the plebeianized aristocratic spirit of yore.