Spread across an open space of 4,736,120 square feet (440,000 square meters) in Beijing, Tiananmen Square is the world’s largest urban plaza. To its north is the Tiananmen, Gate of Heavenly Peace, which was originally built in the 1420s as the southern gateway to the Imperial City. With the end of imperial rule in 1911, the space quickly became a revolutionary symbol when university students gathered to protest against the Versailles Treaty on May 4, 1919. Mao Zedong formally proclaimed the founding of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in the square on October 1, 1949. Since that time, Tiananmen Square has become the showcase of communist power with the construction of monumental structures both in and around the square while retaining its legacy as the site for popular protests.
These contradictory roles exploded in 1989 when university students launched the largest grassroots protest in the history of the PRC. From April 15 to June 4, these students, later joined by workers, demanded political reform, including an end to rampant corruption. The movement was put down abruptly when the army was called in to disperse the crowd by force. The final death toll was never confirmed, with estimates ranging from the Chinese government’s estimate of two hundred to three thousand by other independent sources. To this day, the 1989 Tiananmen protest remains a tightly censored subject in China.
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