Daybreak over Tiananmen Square

A Chinese girl has second thoughts about the wisdom of asking the strange, tall Westerner to pose with her for a photo, Tiananmen Square, June 2011.

A Chinese girl starts to have second thoughts about the wisdom of asking the strange, tall Westerner to pose with her for a photo, Tiananmen Square, June 2011. Photo by Zhonyu Yuan.

My trip to Hong Kong came at the end of a month’s stay in China–part of a university class during grad school in 2011–during which I visited Tiananmen Square for the daily flag raising ceremony, necessitating a pre-dawn taxi ride through a very quiet and slumbering Beijing.

Despite the early hour, thousands of onlookers gathered to watch as a military honor guard marched out in quick time and hoisted the colors – gold stars on a blazing field of red – until the flag fluttered in the morning breeze while the national anthem, “March of the Volunteers,” wafted over the square.

To many in the West, Tiananmen—the world’s largest public square—is synonymous with the Chinese government’s June 4, 1989 crackdown against demonstrators gathered there to call for political reform.

The photographic image of a lone man standing defiantly in front of a line of army tanks remains iconic in the West and sums up the square, but for many Chinese, however,  it represents much more and is a source of intense national pride.

There’s nothing quite like a early morning nationalistic flag raising ceremony to work up a good appetite, and I was relieved when a Chinese friend who was acting as an interpreter during the trip took me for a hearty breakfast nearby, sat in the street at a small table as Beijing and the rest of its inhabitants came to life and caught up with us early risers.

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