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Jul 26

Tiananmen at sunrise

Written by Buxi on Saturday, July 26th, 2008 at 11:23 pm
Filed under:culture, video | Tags:, ,
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With a jet-lagged baby, I thought this morning would be the perfect time to attend one of my favorite events in Beijing: watching the raising of the national flag on Tiananmen square.  It is a daily ritual at sunrise, but always thrilling with its simplicity, elegance; I’ve only attended a few times (emphasis: sunrise), and always found it deeply moving. 

Here’s a video, from 5/19, when the flag was lowered to half-staff to remember the victims of the Wenchuan earthquake:  (Why isn’t it a video of my trip? Explanation below.)

I expected a few hundred people, and thought we’d be able to snap some great photos of the scene.  To my surprise, even on this perfectly average Sunday… there was a crowd of thousands (tens of thousands?) surrounding the flag staff 20 minutes before the scheduled raising.  This despite the fact the taxi driver assuring me its the “off” season, with college students on break and non-residents kept from Beijing.  We couldn’t have gotten closer than a few hundred feet of the flag. 

With a cranky and sleepy baby… we decided to go home.  

Tiananmen square has been the home of many landmark moments in Chinese history.  And every day, at both sunset and sunrise, it remains a powerful and treasured symbol for many Chinese people.  I hope one day the West will come to appreciate that aspect of the square, and think of it more than the location where “a student movement was bloodily supressed” (as Western media reports regularly describe it).

For those interested in seeing the event, go to the official Tiananmen website for the exact time of the ceremony every day.  We plan to be back at 5:09 on Monday, when hopefully the crowd will be slightly more manageable.


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14 Responses to “Tiananmen at sunrise”

  1. Dana Says:

    I thought you would like read these articles:

    About the environment in China:
    http://www.upi.com/Science_News/2008/07/09/Chinas_green_programs_World_models/UPI-30901215616918/
    http://www.khaleejtimes.com/darticlen.asp?xfile=data/theworld/2008/July/theworld_July1447.xml&section=theworld&col=

    China invented everything:
    http://news.newamericamedia.org/news/view_article.html?article_id=4eea36e4f9142a07177a5effc989bd1e&from=rss

    In particular I found this part interesting, even if I’m not sure if I agree with everything:
    Indeed. Needham spent entire his life puzzling why the torch of invention has been handed to the West, why there is no Chinese Galileo, no Chinese Einstein. Ever since the Renaissance, scientific innovation had been a Western phenomenon.

    There are many reasons: one is the complete unity of the country. Western Europe is various countries, which competed heavily, and competition spurs innovation. There was no competition in China and the emperor never wanted China to be an innovator. He wanted it to remain utterly stable. And with stability, came backwardness.

    Mao and others were simply the emperors in different clothes. It remained united and immured in its history.

    Things are changing rapidly. Although politically the brakes are still on, economically, commercially, and intellectually, freedom is trickling down. Every time I go to China, I think it is the most free, least regulated society I have ever been in. So long as you don’t criticize the leadership, you can do just about anything you want. It is far freer than the United States, less regulated than United Kingdom. I think that’s why the universities are brimming with ideas. The Ph.D students are coming up with innovations like never before.

    Outside the Chinese space center there is huge sign in the desert in English:

    “Without haste, without fear, we shall conquer the world”. And I think that is the new China; spurred by inventive zeal. I think Needham would have expected it and, because he loved China so much, he would have entirely approved.

  2. Dana Says:

    And I’m glad you made a post about the flag in Tiananmen. My parents said it’s something I have to see one day, how beautiful it is. Hope you are not too jet-lagged to enjoy things, unlike my first trip back to China. I was ten, and the first day I got back they, meaning friends of the family decided to let us see the Forbidden City. I didn’t get a quarter of the way before getting exhausted and absolutely tired. I had to sit for an hour before making the trip back to the entrance. That visit was also the only time I really remember not seeing lines in China. Afterwards I always saw them. Probably not true everywhere, but social graces have certainly seemed to improve on subsequent visits.

  3. Jay in Beijing Says:

    Thank you for sharing, and to Dana too for the nice comments.

  4. deltaeco Says:

    @dana
    “why there is no Chinese Galileo, no Chinese Einstein. Ever since the Renaissance, scientific innovation had been a Western phenomenon.”

    I have this book always by me since decades ago.

    http://www.amazon.com/Genius-China-Science-Discovery-Invention/dp/1853752924

    It is a resume of the works from Needham. I was amazed the first time I read it, and still enjoy to read it from time to time.

    Some of the inventions described in that book created authentic revolutions when they reached old Europe. And some of the inventions have not been implemented at all or just recently.

    Sure, there were Einsteins, Galileos and Leonardos in China history, what happened to their work or why their work did not had the resonance of their Western partners? I do not know

    One more reason to look for them today, and make sure they are recognized and their work not forgotten.

  5. 3 cents Says:

    Buxi,

    On a somewhat related topic, how’s the air condition in Beijing? From James Fallow’s latest picture taken Sunday morning, it looks, well, fuzzy. What’s your opinion?

    http://jamesfallows.theatlantic.com/archives/2008/07/sunday_morning_beijing.php

  6. Theo Says:

    I went to see the flag raising in March. There was a crowd of a few hundred, but it was hard to see what was happening as we were kept about 300-400m from the entrance and flag raising ceremony. It was a solemn occasion until a pickpocket was caught in the act and nearly lynched by the crowd. I was surprised with so many police on the Square that none of them took action to detain the thief or stop the victims roughing him up.

  7. Yoyo Says:

    I hope one day the West will come to appreciate that aspect of the square, and think of it more than the location where “a student movement was bloodily supressed” (as Western media reports regularly describe it).

    Sounds familiar – was it Monty Python and the Holy Grail?

    “Please, please! This is supposed to be a happy occasion! Let’s not bicker and argue about who killed who …”

  8. Dag Selander Says:

    What makes China China? is a real good question learning more. Thanks folks, Buxi, Dana et alia

  9. bianxiangbianqiao Says:

    I went to see the guards lowering the flag and taking it back into the Gate at sunset. People started to line up for the viewing at least an hour in advance. It was hard to see the guards’ action from where I stood. The crowd’ slident reaction, and a sense of my complete merging with them, is the most cherisable part.

  10. snow Says:

    buxi,

    “Tiananmen square has been the home of many landmark moments in Chinese history. And every day, at both sunset and sunrise, it remains a powerful and treasured symbol for many Chinese people. I hope one day the West will come to appreciate that aspect of the square, and think of it more than the location where “a student movement was bloodily supressed” (as Western media reports regularly describe it).”

    Good point you made!
    If you cannot appreciate the full history of Tiananmen Square you cannot understand modern China. People’s never-ending fascination with this ceremony of watching the raising of the national flag on Tiananmen Square is just one indication of great significance / symbolism that both the Square and this national ritual carry.

  11. Buxi Says:

    @Theo,

    They’ve definitely moved the crowds back. I’d be interested if anyone knows when that happened, my impression it’s been that way only this decade… after 9/11? After FLG? In the ’90s at least, I remember you could get within probably 20-30m of the flag.

    @3cents,

    I definitely see what James sees. The atmosphere is very… I don’t know the term: misty? foggy? overcast? And it remains that way. Sunday was pretty dark all day. The air doesn’t smell bad (and I know what a smoggy Chinese city usually smells like), and there are no real indication that this is pollution. It’s just… misty. But unless it clears up, I’m sure it will be interpreted in the worst way possible.

    Rain is forecast for Tuesday, so I’ll be sure to let you all know what I see on Wednesday.

  12. Buxi Says:

    The sky looks darker today (like it’s about to rain), but I do believe the air is clearer.

    We made it to the flag raising today! We got to Tiananmen by about 4:35 for the 5:09 ceremony. There’s security checking bags at every entrance. The crowd was still really large, I’m no good at estimating these things, but I’d imagine at least a thousand. Kids, seniors, families, students, Beijing’ers, out-of-town peasants… and a few Western backpackers.

  13. Opersai Says:

    I would really want to see the ceremony on my next trip back to China. I’ve only passed Beijing briefly couple times, and was unfortunately interrupted from giving a proper visit to the famous must-seen site in Beijing. But getting up 4am in the morning. @_@ Boy, that will be a challenge.

  14. MutantJedi Says:

    … I don’t think many western reporters can tell the difference between hot high humidity and smog…
    According to wunderground.com http://www.wunderground.com/global/stations/54511.html , Beijing is looking at rain over the next few days – 80% chance on Friday. Then it will be hot and clear again on the weekend.

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