Tian'anmen Square is the spiritual heart of the world's most populous country and geographical centre of Beijing. It earned this distinction by serving as the stage for momentous historical events, like the demonstrations on May 4th 1919 that inspired the young Chinese to fight imperialists and warlords, and build a strong independent country. Among those swept up in the ferment of the "May Fourth Movement" was Mao Zedong who would help found the Communist Party of China two years later.
On October 1st, 1949, Mao climbed atop the "Gate of Heavenly Peace", which gives the square its name, to proclaim the foundation of the People's Republic of China.
In 1949, Tian'anmen Square was a narrow walled plaza, but it was expanded in the 1950's to its present size of 400,000 m². The site of major parades, the square has also played host to impromptu celebrations such as when Beijing was awarded the 2008 Olympic Games in July 2001.
Most days Tian'anmen Square is filled with sightseers and kite-flyers. During national holidays, it's usually festooned with banners and floral decorations. Many Chinese people visit at dawn or dusk to see elite People's Liberation Army troops conduct flag raising or lowering ceremonies.
On the square's north end is the Gate of Heavenly Peace, which leads towards the Forbidden City. Above the gate hangs a famous portrait of Chairman Mao and on both sides of the gate are inscriptions in Chinese: the left inscription reads, "Long Live the People's Republic of China"; the one on the right declares, "Long Live the Unity of the People of the World”. For a panoramic view of the square, ascend to the top of the Gate, where Mao proclaimed the establishment of the PRC (People’s Republic of China).
In the centre of the square is the 40m-high monument of the People's Heroes, an obelisk with friezes depicting revolutionary heroes and calligraphy by Mao Zedong and former Premier Zhou Enlai. South of the monument is the Chairman Mao's Mausoleum, where you can peer at the embalmed figure of the Great Helmsman in his glass casket. Standing guard over the square's southern end, behind the mausoleum, is the 600-year-old Qianmen, one of the few remaining Ming-era city gates. The building is on the square's eastside houses close to the Chinese History and Revolution Museum.
The imposing edifice on the west side of Tian'anmen Square is the Great Hall of the People. Built in a speedy 10 months from 1958 to 1959, it's home to China's parliament, the National People's Congress. People with a sense of grandeur will enjoy visiting the Great Hall's 5,000-seat banquet room and 10,000-seat auditorium, which has a large red star on the ceiling outlined by 500 light bulbs. The National Theater, a futuristic "bubble" of titanium and glass resting on an artificial lake, is the site directly west of the Great Hall of the People.