So, it was my last weekend in Beijing before my short trip to India. I was having drinks with a friend and i remarked to her about how i had always wanted to go see the flag hoisting ceremony at Tian'anmen square but never did. She hadn't see it herself but then she proceeded to tell me about all these people who make it their pilgrimage to come to the capital, witness the flag hoisting ceremony and then go pay respects to chairman Mao's memorial. Thousands, she told... thousands of them can be found waiting out the night, out on the streets around Tian'anmen square.
I was amazed, not surprised, but just amazed and impressed with the nationalistic zeal the government here has imbibed into its people. Piety has been substituted by nationalism and i'am not sure if that is such a bad thing. Mass nationalistics, i like to call them.
I had to see this spectacle for myself. So at around 2am, i took a cab to Tian'anmen square. At this late hour the entire city appeared to have turned in for the night, but not here. The whole Tianmen square/Forbidden city area was bathed in bright lights and there were people milling about everywhere. Tourists of all sorts... young, old, rich, poor it didn't matter, they were all there, walking the avenue infront of the Forbidden city, taking and posing for photographs and generally having a good time. The policemen where there, quietly keeping a watch on the proceedings. And then there were the guards, young recruits from the looks of it, stationed near all the entrances to the forbidden city,Â patiently while the horde of tourists (including me) used them as subjects for their masterpiece pictures of the Tiananmen square and forbidden city.
I didn't quite get to see the thousands of people that my friend was talking about, but there were quite a few. Most of them sleeping, on the park benches by the walls of the forbidden city, outside the subway stations and the underpass tunnels below the Chang'an avenue. I found a quite spot for myself and tried to catch some sleep.
After a short while, i was up again. Drawn by the lure of photo opportunities all around me, i walked the streets once again. Enjoying the energy of the city around me, there were workers repairing the pavements, electricians changing light bulbs, municipal workers cleaning the road, laying down new pots of flowers etc. The city was reviving itself, preparing for a new day and the crowds and chaos that comes along with it.
I have to mention that all this time, nobody was allowed onto the Tian'anmen square. The entire square was off limits to people and they all stayed on the Forbidden city side of the road. At around 4am, i saw people slowly make their way to roads on either side of the Tian'anmen square. Then groups of soldiers marched into the square and took their designated positions at various points around the square. And as the queue was slowly growing on either side of the square, i joined it and stood in line.
A little while later, they started letting in people into the square. Not all at once, but in groups of approximately 20 each. I was impressed by how well the crowd was being managed. When my turn finally came, i went in and took a spot by the far right side. There were few people here and i could actually get a front row position. I stood there, waiting.. the daybreak came at around 5am and it was great watching the sky slowly become blue and bright.
A little while later i started feeling light headed and giddy.. felt as if i was going to faint. I tried to fight it at first, but then i realized that the main reason i came here was not to watch the flag being hoisted but to watch the people watching the flag being hoisted. I couldn't possibly do it standing in front of everyone else. So i pulled back, found a clearing and sat down. A few minutes later, i was feeling better and the flag was also being hoisted. It was nothing fancy, noÂ big parades, no six gun salutes, just your run of the mill raising of a flag up the pole. But still there were thousands of people there cheering and proudly waving their flags.
I got what i wanted to see and i think this is one of the must do experiences for anyone coming to Beijing.