Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City


Hi Y’all,

I’m sorry I didn’t post a blog last weekend. I’ve been preparing for my summer class midterms, since I am in China to learn after all. I can’t believe I’m halfway through the program! It’s been amazing how fast four weeks has gone by and how much we could squeeze into it! I bet the next four weeks will pan out similarly. So last Saturday was our scheduled site visit to Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City. Thanks to a lot of tourist advertisements and Chinese documentaries I’d seen previously, as well as the history I was learning in my China in Transformation history course, I was very familiar with the two sites and their cultural and historical relevance in China, which made me excited to visit. Plus, my Chinese Language teacher Yao laoshi was leading us again!

We didn’t have to depart so early since we weren’t leaving Beijing, but I kinda wish we had because when we arrived at Tiananmen it was packed! The square, flanked by the National Museum of China to the east, the Great Hall of the People to the west and Tiananmen Gate (Gate of Heavenly Peace) to the north, was huge, but the crowds still seemed to fill it up. The square is said to be able to hold 600,000 people, and it seemed like every last one of them were there that day! Two things immediately caught my eye on the square: first, there were guards with rifles stationed around the perimeter, which was a little intimidating, and second, the Greek flag was being flown all over the square, which was very confusing (I later learned the Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras visited China).

Later, we walked across the square and through the gate (past Chairman Mao’s portrait) to get to the Forbidden City, which was also massive (and also very crowded). Inside, the city just seemed to go on and on, changing from spectacular palace to spectacular palace as we moved through the gates. The ancient Chinese architecture was beautiful, and the few inside furnishings I got to see were elaborately decorated. It was hard to imagine how just one man, his family, and his servants would’ve been the only inhabitants of the literal city, especially in contrast with the mass of bodies that were there that day. Disappointingly, many of the palaces were off limits and some of the other buildings had been converted into gift shops. To be honest, I wasn’t too impressed with my palace visit. The crowds were too big, we only had a few hours to see what could easily take a whole day, and it was way too hot to be alive. I hope to visit again one day during the off season.

That following week, a group of us ventured out to an English movie theater to see the new Finding Dory movie. We had to navigate the subway system of Beijing to reach the theater, but I learned the ropes of it pretty quickly and felt much more confident using public transit more often. The movie was funny and entertaining, and baby Dory’s eyes were stupid cute! A few days later on the Fourth, I lead a different group to the same theater to see the new Independence Day: Resurgence movie to celebrate Independence day in the most American way we could think of in China (we ate at McDonald’s for dinner). My adventures through the subway system of Beijing has led me to plan other trips around the city, like to the Olympic Stadium park.

I took my Chinese language midterm this past Friday, and I think it went pretty well. I’m really proud of how many characters I’ve learned, and I get excited every time I can pick up a snippet of conversation or a written phrase out on the streets, but I still have a long way to go (I’ve only learned about 70 characters, while 3,000 are required for literacy). I have my other two exams this week, so wish me luck!


Approaching the Gate of Heavenly Peace on the north end of Tiananmen Square.


A kid waving the Chinese flag in front of the Great Hall of the People on the west side of Tiananmen Square.


Avoiding Chairman Mao as we enter through the Gate towards the Forbidden City.


The largest, most regal lion statue I’ve seen in China yet!


Me in the heat, with the Hall of Supreme Harmony in the (far) background, on the other side of all those people.


The north gate leaving the Forbidden City.


– Jakim Johnson, 纪家盛