|The Great Hall of the People 人民大会堂 (Rénmín Dàhuìtáng) borders the western side of Tian'anmen Square. It was finished in September 1959 in time to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the People's Republic of China. It is the home of the National People's Congress and the various legislative groups that govern China. Yearly, in March, there are major meetings of the congresses. During this time security is heightened on the Square and environs. When delegates are traveling to and from the meetings, the major thoroughfare, Chang'an Avenue, is closed. The presence of the People's Hall has returned Tian'anmen Square to its position as a site of protest.
Premier Zhou Enlai died on January 8, 1976. Zhou was and is beloved to the Chinese people. He had been on the Long March and was a stabilizing influence on government. He is seen as a kind man as well as a great leader. The Cultural Revolution was in the hands of the Gang of Four who feared the influence of Zhou and the devotion expressed by the populace. At the time of his death, they limited the mourning period and there was little in the way of public ceremony. People were upset by this. Respect for the dead and the observance of traditions are strong in the Chinese culture.
Several months later the people took the opportunity presented by the beginning of the Qingming season to honor Zhou Enlai by bringing flowers, paper offerings, and poems to Tian'anmen Square and placing them around the Monument to the People's Heroes. Hundreds of thousands of people started to come even before April 5, 1976, the first day of Qingming. The outpouring was both an implied and overt criticism of the government. The Gang of Four, in particular Mao Zedong's wife, Jiang Qing, pushed to suppress the demonstrations of mourning. The Politburo met in the Great Hall of the People and ordered that all of the flowers and memorials be removed. On April 5th, the Square was clean. Troops were posted to prevent people from leaving additional signs of mourning. That night, troops carrying nightsticks attacked the few thousand mourners who remained near the Square in vigil.
Mao Zedong died that September and that effectively ended the Cultural Revolution and the power of the Gang of Four. The demonstrations of affection for Zhou had strengthened the moderates and demonstrated the size of popular support they had. Of course, it is much more complicated than that, but the moderates used the period of prolonged mourning for Mao Zedong to consolidate their position. Deng Xiaoping, a close supporter of Zhou Enlai emerged as the new leader of China. It was Deng who ushered in the new era of modernization and established the Special Economic Zones to gradually open China.
Last update: January 2010
© Marilyn Shea, 2009