Measuring 440,000 square metres (4.8 million square feet) or, to put it another way, about 63 football pitches, the largest public square in the world isn’t difficult to find. Today’s Tiananmen Square has a joyful atmosphere, full of red-capped Chinese tourists and kite flyers. However,the space itself is surprisingly flat and featureless, save two interruptions in the form of the Monument to the People’s Heroes and Chairman Mao’s Mausoleum. Built in 1958, the Monument to the People’s Heroes was the first large-scale monument commissioned by Mao to be built in the ‘new’ China. Get up close and you’ll see that it depicts revolutionary symbols commemorating the masses that died revolting against the country’s oppressors.
The huge flat-roofed building in the middle-south of the square is the Chairman Mao Memorial Hall, the place to go if you want to catch a glimpse of the Great Helmsman himself. Be warned: in the morning the queues are very long and once you’re inside you’ll be hurried past the casket at top speed, but it’s still worth getting a look at the now slightly waxylooking founder of the People’s Republic of China.
Further south is one of the remaining gates of the old city – the Qianmen Gate, which formerly divided the Imperial City from the suburban area of Beijing; and the enormous grey brick Arrow Tower. Once equipped with cannons, it has withstood many a battle, including the violent Boxer Rebellion in 1900.