The Tiananmen (simplified Chinese: 天安门; traditional Chinese: 天安門; pinyin: Tiān'ānmén), or Gate of Heavenly Peace, is a famous monument in Beijing, the capital of the People's Republic of China. It is widely used as a national symbol. First built during the Ming Dynasty in 1420, Tiananmen is often referred to as the front entrance to the Forbidden City. However, the Meridian Gate (午门) is the first entrance to the Forbidden City proper, while Tiananmen was the entrance to the Imperial City, within which the Forbidden City was located. Tiananmen is located to the north of Tiananmen Square, separated from the plaza by Chang'an Avenue.
The Chinese name of the gate (天安門, pronounced Tiān'ānmén), is made up of the Chinese characters for "heaven," "peace" and "gate" respectively, which is why the name is conventionally translated as "The Gate of Heavenly Peace". However, this translation is somewhat misleading, since the Chinese name is derived from the much longer phrase "receiving the mandate from heaven, and pacifying the dynasty." (受命于天，安邦治國). The Manchu transliteration, Abkai elhe obure duka, lies closer to the original meaning of the gate and can be literally translated as the "Gate of Heavenly Peacemaking." The gate has a counterpart in the northern end of the imperial city called Di'anmen (地安门, Dì'ānmén; Manchu: Na i elhe obure duka), which may be roughly translated as the "Gate of Earthly Peacemaking."
The gate was originally named Chengtianmen (simplified Chinese: 承天门; traditional Chinese: 承天門; pinyin: Chéngtiānmén), or "Gate of Accepting Heavenly Mandate", and it has been destroyed and rebuilt several times. The original building was first constructed in 1420 and was based on a gate of an imperial building in Nanjing with the same name and hence inherited the name Chengtianmen. The gate was damaged by lightning in July, 1457, and was completely burnt down. In 1465, Chenghua Emperor ordered Zi Gui (自圭), Minister of Works, to rebuild the gate, and the design was changed from the original paifang form to the gatehouse that is seen today. It suffered another blow in the war at the end of Ming Dynasty, when in 1644 the gate was burnt down by rebels led by Li Zicheng. Following the establishment of the Qing Dynasty and the Manchu conquest of China proper, the gate was once again rebuilt, beginning in 1645, and was given its present name upon completion in 1651. The Tiananmen gate was reconstructed again between 1969 and 1970. The gate as it stood was by then 300 years old, and had badly deteriorated, partly due to heavy usage in the 1950s and 60s. As the gate was a national symbol, then-Premier Zhou Enlai ordered that the rebuilding was to be kept secret. The whole gate was covered in scaffolding, and the project was officially called a "renovation". The rebuilding aimed to leave the gate's external appearance unchanged while making it more resistant to earthquakes and featuring modern facilities such as an elevator, water supply and heating system.
The building is 66 m long, 37 m wide and 32 m high. Like other official buildings of the empire, the gate has unique imperial roof decorations.
In front of the gate are two lions standing in front of the gate and two more guarding the bridges. In Chinese culture, lions are believed to protect humans from evil spirits.
Two stone columns, called huabiao (华表), each with an animal (hou) on top of it, also stand in front of the gate. Originally, these installations were designed for commoners to address their grievances by writing or sticking up petitions on the columns. However, the examples in front of the Imperial City were purely decorative and instead connoted the majesty of the imperial government.
The western and eastern walls have giant placards; the left one reads "Long Live the People's Republic of China" (Chinese: 中华人民共和国万岁; pinyin: Zhōnghuá rénmín gònghéguó wànsuì), while the right one reads "Long Live the Great Unity of the World's Peoples". The right placard used to read "Long Live the Central People's Government" on the founding ceremony of the PRC, but after the ceremony it was changed to "Long Live the Great Unity of the World's Peoples" (Chinese: 世界人民大团结万岁; pinyin: Shìjiè rénmín dà tuánjié wànsuì). Both placards were changed to use simplified Chinese instead of traditional Chinese characters in 1964. The phrasing has significant symbolic meaning, as the phrase used for long live, like the Imperial City itself, was traditionally reserved for Emperors of China, but is now available to the common people.
In front of the stands is the Imperial City's moat, still filled with water but now containing decorative illuminated fountains.
In ancient times, the Tiananmen was among the most important gates encountered when entering Beijing's Imperial City along with the Qianmen, the Gate of China. Proceeding further inward, the next gate is the 'Upright Gate', identical in design to the Tian'anmen; behind it is the southern entrance of the Forbidden City itself, known as the Meridian Gate.
Because of the gate's position at the front of the Imperial City, and historical events that have taken place on Tiananmen Square, the gate has great political significance. During the Kuomintang government in 1925, a large portrait of Sun Yat-sen was hung at the gate after his death. In 1945, to celebrate the victory over Japan, Chiang Kai-shek's portrait was hung.
On July 7, 1949 the picture of Zhu De and Mao Zedong were hung to commemorate the Second Sino-Japanese War. Since then, from the founding date of the People's Republic of China, a portrait of Mao Zedong has been hung at the square on October 1. Each year the old portrait is replaced before October 1, founding day of the PRC. However, on certain occasions the picture has been different. For example, on March 9, 1953 a picture of Joseph Stalin was put up due to his death.
In 2011 Alexander Pann Han-tang (潘漢唐), chairman of the Asia Pacific Taiwan Federation of Industry and Commerce (亞太台商聯合總會), and close friend of President Ma Ying-jeou proposed that the picture of Sun Yat-sen be displayed at Tiananmen Square instead for the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Republic of China. However this proposal was rejected.
The portrait weighs 1.5 tonnes and is generally replaced by a spare when it is vandalised. In 1989 three dissidents, including Yu Dongyue attacked the portrait with eggs during the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989. He was sent to prison and was not released until 17 years later in 2006. On May 12, 2007 the portrait of Mao caught on fire. A 35-year-old unemployed man from Urumqi was arrested for the incident. About 15% of the portrait was damaged, and had to be repaired later. On April 5, 2010, a protester threw ink in a plastic bottle and hit a wall near the portrait. He was then arrested.
Due to its historical significance, Tiananmen is featured on the National Emblem of the People's Republic of China. It has also been featured in the designs of stamps and coins issued by the People's Republic of China.
Tiananmen is open to the public from each day of the week from 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
City buses 1, 2, 5, 52, 59, 82, 99, 120, 126, 观光1, 观光2, 夜1, 夜2, 夜17 stop near Tiananmen.
- Lu Bingjie, Tian'anmen (Jinan: Shandong huabao chubanshe, 2004) p. 40.
- Cf. Erich Hauer. "Why the Sinologue Should Study Manchu." Journal of the North-China Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society 61 (1930): 156-64.
- Xinhua News Agency, Secret reconstruction of Tiananmen 35 years ago, 04/21/05
- NYtimes. "NYtimes.com." Chameleon Mao, the face of Tiananmen square. Retrieved on 2011-04-11.
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- Tian'anmen -- the Gate of Heavenly Peace. China.org.cn