Inevitably, Tien An Men square recalls images of a failed Chinese revolution that took place just before the people of Eastern Europe successfully rose to gain liberty and democracy. But Tien An Men square is more than that. It was used as a place for gatherings in imperial times, and much later, Mao turned the enormous space into a perfect display of popular support using rallies. Parades of a million people passed through this square during his Cultural Revolution. After the 1989 Revolution, the square has not seen huge crowds anymore. Even so, it is so vast that crowds that would fill any other square in another city, would not even considered to be a crowd on Tien An Men.
This largest square in the world has several sights on its sides. At the northern side lies the Forbidden City, several gates, museums, and, obviously, the mausoleum of the Great Leader himself, Mao. The latter building cannot be missed as it lies at the heart of the square. After a visit to the Dashilan area, darkness had fallen over Beijing's skies and I entered Tien An Men square from the south. I was immediately struck by the bright illumination of all the main buildings and decided for a walk on this enormous square. It was so different from my summertime visits, when families sit on the square, mothers playing with their children, fathers flying kites for their sons, people enjoying the sun and the car-free area of the inner square. But now, the square was almost deserted and, indeed, was like a tiny desert inside the city.
A thin layer of snow covering the square made this impression even more convincing. The poor guards at Mao's mausoleum were standing still, although the cold wind that blew through my clothes must have been bothering them as well. His picture on the wall of the Forbidden City was, of course, still there, but a look back on the square from this vantage point made me realize once again how big the place really is. Walking cautiously back in order not to fall on the icy and snowy square, all the impressive buildings with their decorations and lights on the roofs, and the enormous empty space around made me feel very small.
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