Tiananmen Square, Flag Raising Ceremony At Dawn

Beijing Travel Blog

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First view of the Tiananmen Square flagpole, still dark around 4:40 am

Saturday morning.   The lumenescent dials of my watch on the nightstand read exactly 4 am.  I wasn't trying to wake up this early, it just happened.  Yesterday, I had asked the guys if they would like to go see the sunrise flag raising ceremony at Tiananmen Square, but no one had wanted to get up that early. 

4:15 am.   Now I'm wide awake.  Not getting back to sleep.  What the heck...I'm gonna do it!!  I'll probably never be here again, so this is one of those once-in-a-lifetime opportunities!  It was highly recommended in my guidebook, and I think it will be cool!  I know the hotel is fairly close to the square, but I don't know just how far or in which direction.  It was still pitch dark out, and I didn't want to wake anyone, so I fumbled around in the dark for my clothes and shoes, and went to get dressed in the bathroom.

Just after 5 am now, sunrise is approaching fast
   I was feeling around in the dark for my watch, wallet and room key, when I accidently knocked a wooden tissue box off the nightstand.  It fell with a loud "thunk", waking Lee up.  "Nice job, Mr. Clumsy!" Lee muttered from his side of the room.  "oops, sorry to wake you!" I whispered..."but since you're up now, I'm going to the flag raising ceremony.  Wanna come?"  "uh, no thanks!" he replied, "I'm staying in bed!"       Ok, your loss!  Well, at least I don't have to leave a note now!    I gathered my cameras and camcorder equipment, including my new tripod, and packed it all in my backpack.  I tip-toed out, and quietly closed the door behind me, so as not to wake the other two, then made my way downstairs to the lobby.
procession of soldiers, going to raise the flag
  It was dark and chilly, so I wore both my sweatshirt and leather jacket.    The front desk and lobby, which had been a bustle of activity when we checked in, with a full lobby and no less than six clerks on duty, was now completely empty except for a single night clerk behind the desk.   He looked up, and seemed genuinely surprised to see a tall Westerner with a backpack on at 4:30 in the morning!  I asked him, "which way to Tiananmen Square?"  He made a motion with his fingers like a Yellow Pages Ad...  "You Walk?" he asked.  "Yes!  I walk!"    He came out from the desk area and led me out the front door, and past the fountain.  He pointed down one of the main streets outside the hotel, and said "That way, 10 minute!"    I smiled and thanked him, and plodded off alone into the night.
Sunrise! The flag was up around 5:25 am

I must say, it was quite exhilarating, to be walking off by myself, in the pre-dawn hours, in a city halfway around the world where I couldn't speak the language or even read a street sign!  But, I'm on a mission now!  I did get a few quizzical looks from the few Chinese folks that I did encounter at that hour, but the streets for the most part were empty.  After hiking several blocks in the dark, I noticed in the distance the flashing lights of two police cars.  Accident?   As I got closer, I saw hundreds of people, just past the police cars.  It was then I saw the flag pole, and put two and two together.  Just ahead of me to my left was the square, and already a huge crowd had gathered! The police cars were closing off the roads for the ceremony!  During my walk, the black of night had transformed into a pre dawn glow, and the sun would be poking her head out soon.

This is where I stood, just outside the Forbidden City
   I was across the street from the square, and there was a chest high fence on both sides of the way to cross!  I looked to my right, and realized I was standing in front of the entrance to the Forbidden City!

If I was inclined to walk all the way down to the other end of the sidewalk,  there was an underground passageway that led across the street and down to the square...but I wasn't sure if I could get all the way down there before the ceremony started (it was a little after 5 am now, and the darkness was disappearing fast)   Some Chinese people had started to gather at the fence as well, so I decided to stay put.  I was across the street, but it was a front row seat.  I could probably set my tripod up right here, and be able to film the ceremony with my camcorder on it and take pictures at the same time!   If I went into the square,  even if I made it on time, there would be no way to muscle my way to the front.

These guards stood watch, blocking the sidwalk until the ceremony was over
..the gatherering crowd was just too big.  So, I guess this is as good a place as any!  I set up my gear and waited.  

It wasn't too long before I heard some music starting, and everyone moved over to my left.   I then saw a procession of soldiers, carrying the flag, emerge from the entrance to the Forbidden City!  I wasn't expecting that to be the place they would come from, for some reason.  I guess I picked a pretty good spot after all!  The crowd was now in my way, so I took the camcorder off the tripod and held it up high, to film the soldiers crossing the street. (guards had removed a section of fence just before they emerged) 

The Chinese National Anthem was playing as they ceremoniously attached the flag, and slowly raised it, just as the first glimmer of sunlight was poking over the horizon.

  They time it so that the flag is up at the exact moment of sunrise.  Many in the crowd were singing along to the National Anthem. There were several hundred people there, but all Chinese! I was the only Westerner I saw.  I got many looks and smiles from those in attendance. (they seemed surprised to see a tall caucasion there. I guess not too many tourists get up that early!)    It was an amazing ceremony to watch!  Once the flag was up, the procession of soldiers marched around, back across the street in perfect step, and disappeared back into the Forbidden City from where they had come. Very cool!  And to think, if I hadn't randomly woken up at 4:00 am,  I would have missed it all!   Once the ceremony was over, the police and soldiers opened up the sidewalk and road again.
lets see...3 extra hours sleep, or getting this shot. hmmmm.
    It was then that I walked over, and took the underground passageway to Tiananmen Square.

I walked all around the square, taking pictures, and waving my hand "no" to all the persistant hawkers who were  selling kites, watches, red "Mao" books, postcards, etc.  in the square.  Being the only tourist up at that hour, I was a prime target!  I walked around to the People's monument, taking pictures of the sunrise behind it.  I also was able to get several shots of the sun rising behind the flag they just raised.  After about an hour in the square, I walked back through the underground passageway to get some pictures of the front of the Forbidden City, before the crowds started filling in.  It was about that time that I started to see the first tourists.

Statue outside the Forbidden City
  I didn't see the first Westerner til after 7:00 am...and I'd been out since 4:30!   I'm glad I got the opportunity to share in this experience, which is obviously very important to the Chinese.   I started walking back to the hotel, arriving a little after 7:30.   All the guys were still asleep!  Not wanting to wake them, or go back to sleep myself, I grabbed my swimsuit and headed on down to the pool!

sophiefbs says:
Hey, you are really a early bird,and even i was shocked by your serious and devote actions, thank you took so beautiful pics of tiananmen square!
Posted on: Jan 01, 2008
dmae712 says:
wow these are nice pix. HOrdes of people when i went.
Posted on: Jun 04, 2007
Metyka says:
For all the world to know, Walt being my son and getting up at 4am and being excited about it means this is something everyone should do should they go to China. What a moving experience. Metyka (mom)
Posted on: May 21, 2007
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The chef carved the duck right in front of us *

We did a lot of walking around today!!  After resting our weary bones for awhile in the hot tubs, (The hot water jets feel great on sore legs and feet!)  We went upstairs to get changed and ready for dinner.   The concierge had recommended a place called Beijing Wangfujing Quanjude Roast Duck Restaurant. They were within short walking distance of the hotel, and were highly recommended because they had great Peking Duck, which we wanted to try. We had been told that no reservations were necessary, but still had to wait a little while when we got there.  It was a very nice place, and crowded, too, even though it was after 8:00 pm when we got there.  We ordered the duck, and a white fish dish to go with it.  

The chef came out with the duck on a rolling tray, and proceded to carve it right in front of us.

We wrapped the duck in little tortillas, with lettuce, greens and Hoisin sauce *
  The hostess gave us bamboo steamers of round tortilla-like bread wraps, a plate of lettuce, and a plate of greens (cucumber and scallions, or green onions..not sure which)    She taught us how to put the duck meat on the tortilla after dipping it in a brown "hoisin" sauce, and make a wrap with the lettuce and greens.  Delicious!!  None of us had ever tried Peking Duck  before, but we all loved it!   While we were busy making our little duck wraps, the hostess brought over a plastic shopping bag, and held it up to Dave (probably because he had placed the order)  Dave, engrossed in his food, had just glanced over at this bag that was being offered to him, and held up near his head.  Suddenly, the bag "jumped"-- and so did Dave, right off his chair!!  We all laughed at Dave, (who was NOT expecting a jumping bag, none of us were!)  The hostess opened the bag, and we saw that the fish Dave had ordered was still alive, and flipping around inside the bag!!   Either she was showing us the fish for approval, or just trying to show it was fresh.
"Try The Chicken!"
  Either way, it scared the hell out of Dave for a second!  We don't expect to find living creatures flipping around inside a shopping bag!   Dave gathered himself, nodded his approval, and the fish came back about 10 minutes later, fully cooked now and garnished and covered in sauce.    The fish was on a tray, "intact"  (with eyes and head), and "looking" at me... I felt a little guilty that we were now eating this critter that had only moments before had been fighting for it's life, and had been killed and prepped especially for us.  Oddly, I didn't feel guilty about the duck- although I suppose if they had waddled it out of the kitchen prior to cooking and it quacked at me, I most likely would have ordered the salad!

After a wonderful dinner, we tried to order dessert, but it was after 9:00PM now, and the kitchen was now closed.

Sunrise behind the People's Monument
  ( I don't think she really understood what we were trying to ask her, anyway)    We left there and walked around the shopping district a little, and picked up a few trinkets at a souvenir shop there.  Then, there was nothing left to do but head back to the hotel.  We could all use a good sleep tonight!  We will have some more walking to do tomorrow, as we will be headed to the Great Wall!


* not my photo (forgot my camera!)   :-( 

cotterb says:
I had a great time at the duck restaurant too. I only hope I can find something similar in my town.
Posted on: Nov 14, 2007
portia says:
jumping fish! I won't expect it in a shopping bag either, but it's common to show you the live fish (if you ordered a live fish!).
Posted on: May 20, 2007
sunsetrosebud says:
What a funny story. Glad you enjoyed the food.
Posted on: May 14, 2007
First view of the Tiananmen Square…
First view of the Tiananmen Squar…
Just after 5 am now, sunrise is ap…
Just after 5 am now, sunrise is a…
procession of soldiers, going to r…
procession of soldiers, going to …
Sunrise!  The flag was up around 5…
Sunrise! The flag was up around …
This is where I stood, just outsid…
This is where I stood, just outsi…
These guards stood watch, blocking…
These guards stood watch, blockin…
lets see...3 extra hours sleep, or…
lets see...3 extra hours sleep, o…
Statue outside the Forbidden City
Statue outside the Forbidden City
The chef carved the duck right in …
The chef carved the duck right in…
We wrapped the duck in little tort…
We wrapped the duck in little tor…
Try The Chicken!
"Try The Chicken!"
Sunrise behind the Peoples Monume…
Sunrise behind the People's Monum…
Forbidden City and Flag, viewed fr…
Forbidden City and Flag, viewed f…
Sunrise behind the Peoples Monume…
Sunrise behind the People's Monum…
monument to the workers
monument to the workers
Maos mausoleum wasa closed for re…
Mao's mausoleum wasa closed for r…
I think this says Keep off the gr…
I think this says "Keep off the g…
sunrise behind clouds
sunrise behind clouds
sun behind the flag
sun behind the flag
Sun fully up now
Sun fully up now
There would be massive crowds of p…
There would be massive crowds of …
Forbidden City Entrance...go ahead…
Forbidden City Entrance...go ahea…
raising the flags
raising the flags
These statues guard the city
These statues "guard" the city
I like how the clouds look here
I like how the clouds look here
again, a shot devoid of people
again, a shot devoid of people
Sun makes the flag seem transparent
Sun makes the flag seem transparent
I took a bunch of these, hoping to…
I took a bunch of these, hoping t…
heading back to the hotel now
heading back to the hotel now
Leaving Forbidden City, headed bac…
Leaving Forbidden City, headed ba…
My friends are all still asleep!
My friends are all still asleep!
photo by: Deats