Tiananmen Square is one of the largest city center squares in the world. It is truly the heart of Beijing. People all over China dream of having the chance to one day visit the capital city and its famous square. Most of you are probably already familiar with Tiananmen Square, you've seen it on TV, but pictures can't do justice to its immense size. You have to See it to believe it.
That's brief historical facts about Tiananmen Square and the surrounding area. Tiananmen Square actually gets its name from the huge gate that stands on the north side of the square. The Chinese word for "gate" is "men", so the name Tian' anmen can be translated into English as the Gate of Heavenly Peace. Tiananmen was built in 1417 and served as the entrance gate to the Imperial Palace, or as you might know it, the Forbidden City. Originally the gate had a different name. It was called "the Gate of Heavenly Succession", or "Chentianmen" in Chinese.
In the past, every traditional Chinese home had a small courtyard in front of the main building. Of course, the courtyard of the royal family had to be much larger, but the actual dimensions of the square have gone through a succession of changes over the years. in the Tang Dynasty, more than a thousand years ago, the first open space was cleared in front of the main entrance. Later it was converted into the "Thousand Step Long Walkway". When the capital of the Yuan Dynasty was moved to Beijing, the square took on the same shape that it has now, but it was still much smaller. During the Ming Dynasty, the square was enclosed by red walls, with gates on both of the eastern and western sides. The ground was paved with slabs of stone.
In 1949, the year the People's Republic of China was founded, major renovation work began at Tiananmen Square. Three subsequent renovation projects in 1958, 1976 and 1981 have transformed the square into the major landmark it is today. Tiananmen Square now stretches 880 meters from north to south and 500 meters from east to west, making for a total area of 440,000 square meters. That's about the size of 60 soccer fields, spacious enough for half a million people to all stand on the square at one time.
When China was still ruled by an emperor, the gate on the northern edge of Tiananmen Square played an important role in the governing of the country. Whenever the emperor made a new law, the imperial edict was written down and placed in a gilded box in the shape of a phoenix. The actual scroll was placed in the mouth of the phoenix. Then the phoenix box was lowered down from the top of the gate to the officials waiting below. Once a year, when the emperor went to the Temple of Heaven to offer sacrifices to the gods and his ancestors, he and his party left the palace via the gate. And in times of war, the imperial guards would march out to battle through the Gate of Heavenly Peace. Today, it is where visiting heads of state view the guards of honor and pay tribute to fallen Chinese heroes at the Monument to the Heroes of the People in the center.
In addition to its political importance, Tiananmen Square is also a place where the average citizen can go and relax. On clear days, the sky above the square is often filled with doves, eagles, butterflies and even dragons more than 20 meters long. Of course, the animals aren't real, they're only kites. Watching all of the colorful kites bob around in the wind is a lot of fun, and thanks to the vendors selling kites right on the square, you can even try your hand at it. On summer evenings, when it's too dark for flying kites, local residents congregate on the square to enjoy the cool breeze and catch up on the neighborhood gossip.
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