June 04, 2009

Tiananmen: Don't sit down

Today is the 20th anniversary of the Chinese government crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in Beijing's Tiananmen Square, a crackdown that killed hundreds.

June 4, 1989 was a bad day in Tiananmen, but the vast space, the largest city square in the world, is strange and unwelcoming even on its best.

If the builders' intent was to create a space that glorifies government power and makes people feel small, insignificant and even intimidated, they succeeded.

You can't get comfortable in Tiananmen Square. Its endless, nearly-benchless concrete screams, You can't relax here. It's forbidden. Keep moving! Don't gather. Don't congregate. Don't stop to chat. The folks in the photo at left had nabbed the only bench I saw in the square's entire sterile 440,000 square meters.

The only places in Tiananmen where I saw people congregating were in the long queues outside Mao's tomb.

I'd planned to picnic in Tiananmen but found no comfortable place to sit, so I squatted on a concrete curb near the mausoleum and ate my can of sardines while watching uniformed attendants with megaphones shout orders to the waiting tomb-goers to keep them in straight lines.