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.