Tourists often don’t understand why so many Beijingers have never been to the Great Wall or seen the flag-raising ceremony at Tian’anmen Square. Because we live here, witnessing the latter doesn’t seem so urgent – despite the fact that thousands gather at the center of our city before dawn each day for this purpose.
Since finishing university, I’ve lived in Beijing for eight years. I’ve heard many of my friends talk about this experience, but only started to think about it in earnest after deciding I wasn’t going anywhere for the October holiday. After calling some friends and doing research, here are some notes that you may find useful if you’re thinking of attending the ceremony.
First, watching the flag raising requires getting up really early. Many people choose to stay up all night because it can start as early as 4am in summer. You can check the timetable for the exact time of each day’s flag raising. This year, it falls on 6.10am on October 1.
The ceremony is scheduled each day based on astronomical calculations, which starts when the top of the sun reaches the horizon. Many tourists arrive several hours early to avoid missing the moment.
Fair warning: Special days such as January 1 and the first day of the National Day holidays attract a much larger crowd than usual to the 440,000sqm Tian’anmen Square. According to Xinhua, about 20,000 people from all over China watched the ceremony on the first day of the year. You can get a better idea visually from the video here.
Most of us know how to take the subway to Tian’anmen, but the flag raising ceremony takes place too early. There is a couple of night buses (205 and 210) that pass by the area and people have managed to park their cars on the west side of the square. But considering the National Day situation, I would take a taxi or a bike. If you choose biking, park your bike on the south side of the square since attendees are required to exit from the south side when the ceremony is over.
Admission (which involves a security check) starts at 1.30am; there is an entrance on each side of the square. Many of my friends decided to be early birds in order to get a perfect spot for the three-minute ceremony.
How does it work? The music starts, honor guards walk through the gate of Tian’anmen Square and Jinshui Bridge. They raise the flag, the Chinese national anthem is played, and the flag goes up in time with the sunrise. You may find yourself singing along with the Chinese audience around you.
The southeast and southwest corners are considered to be the best locations to view the flag raising from. Photographers who are keen to take pictures of the guards can choose the area near Chang’an Avenue on the north side of the square.
Finally, get some rest the day before and bring an extra jacket for each person. If you’re preparing to stay up, try to do it as a group so that the time goes by faster. Chinese elementary school students often wear a red scarf to salute the flag in groups. The scarf is available here.
Photo by INABA Tomoaki (Flickr)