Tian"anmen Square is one of the largest city squares in the world. It is situated in the heart of Beijing. Tian"anmen was built in 1417 and was the entrance gate to the Forbidden City. Now the square stretches 880 meters from north to south and 500 meters from east to west. The total area is 440,000 square meters. That"s about the size of 60 soccer fields, spacious enough to accommodate half a million people.
Covering over forty hectares, Tian"anmen Square must rank as the greatest public square on earth. It"s a modern creation, in a city that traditionally had no squares, as classical Chinese town planning did not allow for places where crowds could gather. Tian"anmen only came into being when imperial offices were cleared from either side of the great processional way that led south from the palace to Qianmen and the Temple of Heaven. The ancient north–south axis of the city was thus destroyed and the broad east–west thoroughfare, Chang"an Jie, that now carries millions of cyclists every day past the front of the Forbidden City, had the walls across its path removed. In the words of one of the architects: "The very map of Beijing was a reflection of the feudal society, it was meant to demonstrate the power of the emperor. We had to transform it, we had to make Beijing into the capital of socialist China." The easiest approach to the square is from the south, where there"s a bus terminus and a subway stop. As the square is lined with railings (for crowd control) you can enter or leave only via the exits at either end or in the middle.
Bicycles are not permitted, and the streets either side are one way; the street on the east side is for traffic going south, the west side for northbound traffic.
The square has been the stage for many of the epoch-making mass movements of twentieth-century China: the first calls for democracy and liberalism by the students of May 4, 1919, demonstrating against the Treaty of Versailles; t