Tian’anmen (Gate of Heavenly Peace) is a must-see for any tourist to Beijing. Standing on the traditional Central Axis of Beijing, it is located at the southern end of the Forbidden City. During the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) dynasties, Tian’anmen was the main entrance of the Forbidden City, today’s Palace Museum. Immediately south of Tian’anmen is the Tian’anmen Square, which is truly the heart of Beijing. Tian’anmen is an eternal symbol of the country – in the center of the national emblem is Tian’anmen.
First built in 1417, the 15th year of Yongle Reign of the Ming Dynasty, Tian’anmen (men means gate in Chinese) was originally named Chengtianmen (Gate of Heavenly Succession), because in ancient China it was believed that emperors acted according to the mandate of heaven. In 1651, it was rebuilt and renamed Tian’anmen, based on the belief that emperors exercised power on behalf of heaven while also invoking a sense of lasting political stability.
Tian’anmen, a masterpiece of the traditional Chinese architecture, looks majestic and grandeur. It was originally 33.87 meters tall, and was raised to 34.7 meters after a renovation in 1970. The main body of Tian’anmen has two levels – a rostrum and a gate tower. The upper level features a double-eave structure and yellow-glazed tiles, with 9 intercolumniations (or spaces between the columns) from east to west and 5 intercolumniations from north to south. The numbers 9 and 5, when put together, was a way to indicate supremacy. This architectural style was used exclusively for imperial palaces.
During the Ming and Qing dynasties, the imperial edicts were issued here. The emperors lowered the imperial edicts from the rostrum to officials kneeling below. Once the edicts were removed from the gilded phoenix-shaped box, they were copied and announced all over the country. Another important political event took place on the rostrum on Oct. 1, 1949, when Chairman Mao stood here and proclaimed the founding of the People’s Republic of China (PRC).
Tian’anmen was also used during other important occasions, such as the enthronement of new emperors, imperial weddings and receptions of emperors’ parents. Before an emperor personally led his army in a military operation or before a general departed on an expedition, a ceremony of sacrifice to the god of roads or the banner would also be held here. The emperors did not pass through Tian’anmen at ordinary times, other than when going to offer sacrifices to the gods of heaven, earth or grain, showing the importance of the Tian’anmen.
In front of Tian’anmen is a stream called Outer Golden River. Seven carved white-marble bridges, called Golden Water Bridges, span the stream, the widest of which in the middle is called the Yulu Bridge (Imperial Bridge) that was used exclusively by emperors.
By the Outer Golden River are two pairs of majestic stone lions and two ornamental pillars (called Huabiao in Chinese). The ornamental pillars, 9.57 meters high each together with its pedestal, are made of white marble and carved with patterns of dragons and clouds. At the top of each pillar are cloud-shaped boards and a stone drum with a squatting animal sitting atop that are overlooking away from the palace. Behind the Tian’anmen, there is another pair of pillars, and the animals on those pillars are facing inward, looking towards the palace. Why the difference?
The pillars behind the Tian’anmen, which face the palace, admonish the emperors to, at times, leave his palace and go out to experience and observe situation of the people. The name of the pillars reflects this hope. They are called “Wangjunchu”, which can be translated as “expecting the emperor to go on an inspection tour”. In contrast, the pillars outside the Tian’anmen are called “Wangjungui”, which means “looking forward to the emperor’s return”. They are supposed to be a reminder to the emperors that they must return to the palace to handle government affairs after enjoying touring their realm.
Since the founding of the PRC, the government has constantly maintained and repaired Tian’anmen, giving it its present look. On both sides are two large stands where important persons (VIPs) may watch grand ceremonies. A green belt is built on the south side of the Golden River, which is lined by evergreen and flowering plants.
From the rostrum, you can have one of the best views of Tian’anmen Square, one of the largest city center squares in the world. Until 1988, when the rostrum was opened to the public, this was a view reserved only for emperors and important heads of state.