What you may not know: The modern-day Tiananmen Gate is a fake; Original one ordered to be completely demolished in top political secrecy in 1969
Tourists are expected to flock to Tiananmen this week during National Day holiday. Here’s a reminder that the gate you see isn’t exactly the gate of history.
The current Tiananmen Gate is actually a fake. The original one was completely demolished in 1969 for security concerns and a brand new Tiananmen imitation was built in top political secrecy.
Every year millions of Chinese and Laowais swarm to pay a visit to the Chinese national symbol: the Gate of Heavenly Peace - Tiananmen, but few of them know what they see there is actually a fake Tiananmen and the original one was completely demolished 43 years ago secretly, not to mention the reason why it was demolished and how it was rebuilt.
The Tiananmen Gate has been actually destroyed and rebuilt several times. The original building was first constructed in 1420 in the Ming Dynasty. A lightning in July 1457 burnt it down completely. Then it was rebuilt in 1465. In 1644 the gate was burnt down by rebels led by Li Zicheng. Following the establishment of the Qing Dynasty, the gate was once again rebuilt in 1651.
Then after 300 years, the Tiananmen Gate was rebuilt again in 1969, as Shanghai based Liberation Daily reminded us on September 27. This time, it was not destroyed by natural disaster or during a war, but was ordered to be demolished by top leaders of the country in peaceful time.
And it was not a renovation as it was officially called. The old Tiananmen built with bricks and wood was completely demolished, and a brand new Tiananmen imitation was built at the same place with concrete and steel.
The complete demolition and rebuilding process was kept as China's top political secret until 21 century.
Liberation Daily has more details:
After 300 years of usage, the gate had badly deteriorated due to centuries of war, fire, dilapidation, lack of repair. The main structure had been deformed and the base of the gate had severely sedimented. The Xingtai earthquake with a Richter magnitude of up to 7.5 that happened 300 kilometers away from Beijing in Xingtai, Hebei province, in 1969, caused further and devastating damage to the gate.
For security concern, the Chinese state council decided in 1969 to completely demolish the gate and rebuild it at the same place, with the same size, but with modern building materials.
The Tiananmen Gate Security Team (TGST) had drafted three plans for top leaders of the Communist Party of China (CPC) to choose from. The TGST preferred the first plan which was to retain the major wooden structure while replace some irrational construction from the perspective of architecture with first grade of wood.
The second plan was to retain the base of the front red wall while replace all other with modern concrete and iron structure.
The third plan was to completely demolish the old gate and rebuild a brand new one with concrete and steel structure.
Finally the communist leaders chose the third one which also featured outstanding security measures, which was regarded as the top priority.
As the gate was a national symbol, the state council ordered that the rebuilding be kept top political secret. The whole gate was covered in scaffolding, and the project was officially called a "renovation".
To keep such an important project as a secret in China’s core of the political center where tens of thousands of that time Chinese swarmed to visit every year was actually easy job for the communist leadership.
Except the passage for transporting building materials, the whole gate covered with scaffolding was like being closed behind iron curtain just as the entire nation was in to the outside world. Even the workers in neighbouring Zhongshan Park and Nationalities Cultral Palace did not know what was happening inside the tightly closed scaffolding.
All workers participating in rebuilding Tiananmen Gate was ordered to stay silent and required not to tell anyone else including family members since it was political task.
The rebuilding started on December 15, 1969 and the new Tiananmen was reopened to the public on May 1, 1970. All the workers were selected from top technicians nationwide. Demolition of the gate took only seven days and as much as 6 kilograms of gold foil was used to refurbish it.
You think it a pity that China did not choose to retain the main structure of the 300-year-long orginal Tiananmen and renovate it based on the wooden structure?
On the contrary if you understand the rebuilding was conducted during the chaotic 1966-1976 Cultural Revolution, when tens of thousands of precious historical relics across the country were ransacked, burned, torn down, and leveled. Actually it is already very lucky that the communist leadership did not choose to replace the original Tiananmen with a Mao-Mausoleum-style structure there!