In a spur of the moment business trip to Shanghai, my boss left me with a three-day vacation. I wasn’t sure what to do, being that I still hadn’t learned any Mandarin besides, “Sorry, I am an American; I speak English.” So with that in mind, I decided to spend it doing one of the most touristy things a Beijinger can do: visit Tian'anmen Square. 

I knew from the moment I stepped off the Tian'an Men East subway station that I would be in for a crowd. Hordes of tourists, mostly from other parts of China were squished into three small security checkpoints. It seemed like almost an hour until I was finally free from the jostling and shoving at the exit. After successfully emerging from the bottleneck, most of the visitors walked to the right to visit the Forbidden City, complete with a welcoming painting of Mao Zedong at the entrance. Wanting to save that venture for another day, I proceeded to the left, took an underground tunnel, and found myself a vast concrete square, Tian'anmen Square. 

The square really wasn't much aside from a few key monuments and buildings. The first was a very large gate that marked the original entrance to the city of Beijing. The second was a mausoleum to Mao Zedong, where visitors could pay their respects and look upon his mummified remains. The next was a Monument to the People, and lastly was a Chinese flag that visitors would watch rise and fall at dusk and dawn. And all throughout my perusals, soldiers in green uniforms would patrol the square. While Tian’anmen was hardly a relacing or tranquil tourist destination, it was definitely worth a visit to understand the dual nature of Chinese society: honoring the ancient past across the street at the Forbidden City and envisioning a rebirth of a nation at Tian’anmen Square at the same time. Although my day trip was short, I definitely came back a little more enlightened.