This is the world's largest public square, the size of 90 American football fields (40 hectares/99 acres), with standing room for 300,000 people. It is surrounded by the Forbidden City in the north, the Great Hall of the People in the west, and the museums of Chinese History and Chinese Revolution in the east. In the center of the square stands the Monument to the People's Heroes (Renmin Yingxiong Jinian Bei), a 37m (121-ft.) granite obelisk erected in 1958, engraved with scenes from famous uprisings and bearing a central inscription (in Mao's handwriting): THE PEOPLE'S HEROES ARE IMMORTAL. The twin-tiered dais is said to be an intentional contrast to the imperial preference for three-tiered platforms; the yin of the people's martyrs contrasted with the yang of the emperors.

The area on which the square stands was originally occupied by the Imperial Way -- a central road that stretched from inside the Forbidden City, through Tian'an Men, and south to Da Qing Men (known as Zhonghua Men during the Nationalist era), which was demolished to make way for Mao's corpse in 1976. This road, lined on either side with imperial government ministries, was the site of the pivotal May Fourth movement (1919), in which thousands of university students gathered to protest the weakness and corruption of China's then-Republican government. Mao ordered destruction of the old ministries. The vast but largely empty Great Hall of the People rose from the rubble to the west, and equally vast but unimpressive museums were erected to the east, as part of a spate of construction to celebrate 10 years of Communist rule. But the site has remained a magnet for politically charged assemblies; the most famous was the gathering of student protesters in late spring of 1989. That movement, and the government's violent suppression of it, still defines Tian'an Men Square in most minds. You'll search in vain for bullet holes and bloodstains. The killing took place elsewhere. Brutal scenes were witnessed near Fuxing Men and Xi Dan (west of the square), as workers and students were shot in the back as the regime showed its true colors, bringing a halt to a decade of intermittent political reform. Today, stiff-backed soldiers, video cameras, and plainclothes police still keep a close watch on the square.

Other than flying a kite and playing "spot the plainclothes policeman," there isn't much to do in the square, but early risers can line up in front of Tian'an Men at dawn to watch the flag-raising ceremony, a unique suffocation-in-the-throng experience on National Day (Oct 1), when what seems like the entire Chinese population arrives to jostle for the best view.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.