The Square of Peacemaking


Memory of this encounter popped up recently. I visited Beijing two years ago with our group of tai ji (or tai chi alternatively) practitioners. One day we went to see Tiananmen Square, of course. Our shifu or master, who was born and raised in Beijing, had told us stories about how he and his family used to go to fly a kite there then when his was just a wee boy. And it is a strangely alluring place with the guards, the monuments, its contradictory history as the space of power and of Sunday fun; the gates of the Forbidden City on one side and the Chairman Mao Memorial Hall, seen here in the background, on the opposite side.

We wanted to have a group photograph and these high school kids stopped to help us. After one of them had taken a picture of us Westerners they spontaneously grouped around each of us for more pictures. We had such fun even if we had only a few common words to exchange. Of all the magnificent things I got to experience during this trip (the Great Wall, Forbidden City, the food, ah!) this turned out to be the most affecting one.

I wish I knew their names and where they came from. I so much would like to send this picture to them.

Tiananmen, the Gate of Heavenly Peace, is actually the gate leading to the palatial complex of the Forbidden City. But this translation of the gate’s name is not an accurate one. A more appropriate translation would be the ‘Gate of Heavenly Peacemaking’, the counter part of the gate on the south side of the square, Dianmen, the ‘Gate of Earthly Peacemaking.’ In between these two gates now exists an open square, a space, a void.

We filled it up for a moment. And every day the people, the ordinary and the power wielding, share that space with each other.


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