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 Essential Architecture-  Peking

Tiananmen (The Gate of Heavenly Peace)




Beijing / Peking, China




Ming Dynasty


stone and wood


ceremonial gate
 One of the last publicly displayed portraits of Mao Zedong at the Tian'anmen gate.
The Tiananmen or Tian'anmen (pinyin: Tian'anmén; Manchu: Abkai elhe obure duka), is the main entrance to the Imperial City, the central part of Beijing, People's Republic of China. Although commonly referred to as the front entrance to the Forbidden City, that honour properly rests with Meridian Gate. The Tian'anmen is located along the northern edge of Tian'anmen Square.

The gate was originally named Chengtianmen (pinyin: Chéngtianmén), or "Gate of Accepting Heavenly Mandate". The gate was damaged by lightning in 1457, and was not repaired until 1465. It suffered another blow in the war at the end of Ming Dynasty - in 1644 the gate was burnt down by rebels led by Li Zicheng. Following the establishment of the Qing Dynasty and the Manchu conquest of China proper, the gate was rebuilt and was given its present name in 1651.

It has been recently revealed by Xinhua News Agency that the Chinese government had reconstructed the Tian'anmen gatehouse in 1969-1970. The gate as it stood was by then 500 years old, and had badly deteriorated, partly due to heavy usage in the 1950s-60s. As the gate was a national symbol, then-Premier Zhou Enlai ordered that the rebuilding was to be kept in secret. The whole gate was covered in scaffolding, and the project was officially called a "renovation". The rebuilding utilised traditional techniques and material, and all details were designed to be identical to the original gate.

Tiananmen Square has been the site of a number of political events such as the proclamation of the People's Republic of China by Mao Zedong in October 1, 1949 and for mass rallies during the Cultural Revolution. It has also been the site of a number of protest movements, most notably the May Fourth Movement of 1919 for science and democracy, protests in 1976 after the death of Zhou Enlai, and the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989.

The protests of 1989 resulted in the killing of Chinese protestors in the streets to the west of the square and adjacent areas. Some Western reporters who were on the square during the unfolding events reported that they saw no one actually die on the square itself, though did see bloodied people but could not confirm whether they were either dead or injured (Graham Earnshaw and Columbia Journal Review). Chinese expatriates who left the country after the killings said that the total numbers of deaths ended up being in the thousands. This was a combination of the hundreds killed on the spot and the purge that followed.

Meaning of Name
The Chinese name of the gate, Tian'anmén, is made up of the Chinese characters for "heaven," "peace" and "gate" respectively, which why the name is conventionally translated as "The Gate of Heavenly Peace". However, this translation is somewhat misleading, since the Chinese name is derived from the much longer phrase "receiving the mandate from heaven, and stabilizing the dynasty.".The Manchu name of the gate, Abkai elhe obure duka, lies closer to the original meaning of the gate and can be literally translated as the "Gate of Heavenly Peacemaking." The gate has a counterpart in the northern end of the imperial city, Dì'anmén  (Manchu: Na i elhe obure duka), which may be roughly translated as the "Gate of Earthly Peacemaking".


Like other official buildings of the empire, the gate has unique imperial roof decorations. It has the highest number of figures on the roof ridges - ten in each set.

In front of the gate are two lions standing in front of the gate and two more guarding the bridges. In Chinese culture, lions are believed to protect humans from evil spirits.

Two stone columns, called huabiao (??) - each with an animal (hou) on top of it - also stand in front of the gate. Originally, these installations were designed for commoners to address their grievances by writing or sticking up petitions on the columns. However, the examples in front of the Imperial City were purely decorative and instead connoted the majesty of the imperial government.

Because of the gate's position at the front of the Imperial City, and historical events that have taken place on Tian'anmen Square, the gate has great political significance. In the 20th Century this means the gate has frequently been decorated with portraits of objects of veneration. In the early years of the People's Republic, on special occasions the gate was hung with portraits of Sun Yat-sen, Mao Zedong, Marx, Engels, Lenin, and Stalin, with pride of place reserved for Sun Yat-sen.

Since the death of Mao in 1976, the central gate has had a portrait of Mao Zedong towering over it, while the western and eastern walls have had giant placards; the left one reads "Long Live the People's Republic of China", while the right one reads "Long live the Great Unity of the World's Peoples". The right placard used to read "Long Live the Central People's Government", and both placards are written in simplified Chinese instead of traditional Chinese characters. The phrasing has significant symbolic meaning, as the phrase used for long live, like the palace itself, was traditionally reserved for Emperors of China, but is now available to the common people.

The reviewing stands in the foreground are used on International Workers Day (May Day) and on the National Day (October 1) of the People's Republic of China.

In front of the stands is the palace moat, still filled with water but now containing decorative illuminated fountains.

In ancient times, the Tian'anmen is the third gate encountered when entering Beijing. After the Qianmen, the Gate of China, stands the Tian'anmen. Proceeding further inward, the next gate is the 'Upright Gate', identical in design to the Tian'anmen; behind it is the southern entrance of the Forbidden City itself, known as the Meridian Gate.

The Tian'anmen is featured on the emblem of the People's Republic of China.