Monument to the People’s Hero. The monument was designed by renowned architect Liang Sicheng in collaboration with his wife, Lin Huiyin, who debated with others whether the monument should be a pagoda or a pavilion. The consensus was to construct an imposing spire in the tradition of a stone memorial stele. PHOTO BY BERKSHIRE PUBLISHING
The Monument to the People’s Heroes is dedicated to those who helped transform post-Imperialist China. Its placement in Tiananmen Square along the north-south axis of Beijing shattered the traditional cosmological significance of that axis as the orientation used to site the grand and imposing imperial places—while asserting a symbolic transition to China as a modern, socialist state.
With its imposing monuments, striking vastness, and elegiac history, Tiananmen Square in Beijing is an unrivaled iconic space in the People’s Republic of China (PRC). The square’s makeover, from a relic of the imperial domain with associated cosmic qualities into a public arena celebrating socialist aspirations, took place over the past half century with the incremental insertion of symbolic architectural statements.
Key among these statements were the creation and placement of the Monument to the People’s Heroes during the first decade after the establishment of the PRC in 1949. The monument was designed by renowned architect Liang Sicheng in collaboration with his wife, Lin Huiyin, who debated with others from 1951 onward as to whether the monument should be like a pagoda or a pavilion. Ultimately the consensus was to construct an imposing spire somewhat similar to a traditional stone memorial stele. The obelisk was completed in 1958 atop a plinth upon which marble relief panels narrate the revolutionary struggle of the Chinese people during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, from the First Opium War through the civil war. In chronological order in a clockwise direction from the east side, the panels depict the burning of opium during the Opium War (1939–1942); the Jintian village uprising during the Taiping Rebellion in 1851; the Wuchang Uprising during the 1911 revolution; the May Fourth Movement in 1919; the May Thirtieth Movement in 1925; the Nanchang Uprising in 1927; the War of Resistance against Japan from 1937 to 1945; and the successful crossing of the Yangzi (Chang) River in 1949 that presaged the liberation of Nanjing. In addition, two panels present words drafted by Chinese Communist Party (CCP) leader Mao Zedong with calligraphy by Premier Zhou Enlai: “Eternal glory to the Heroes of the People who laid down their lives in the People’s War of Liberation and the People’s Revolution in the past three years! Eternal glory to the Heroes of the People who laid down their lives in the People’s War of Liberation and the People’s Revolution in the past thirty years! Eternal glory to the Heroes of the People who, from 1840 laid down their lives in the many struggles against domestic and foreign enemies and for national independence and the freedom and well-being of the people!”
Unlike the surrounding imposing buildings flanking the square, the 37-meter-tall granite obelisk, with an overall footprint of 3,000 square meters, many people felt, disrupted the cosmological axial design of imperial times. According to the art historian Wu Hung, the specific placement of the obelisk was “an attempt to put a punctuation mark in the flow of history, to separate the past from the present” (Wu 2005). The construction of Chairman Mao’s mausoleum just to the south of the Monument to the People’s Heroes in the autumn of 1976 irretrievably separated any lingering significance of the historic north-south longitudinal axis based upon gates and palaces of the imperial past.
Over the past thirty years, since the death of Zhou Enlai in 1976, the obelisk has become a site of protest in addition to one of memory. In May and June 1989, sparked by the death of former CCP Secretary General Hu Yaobang, TV viewers worldwide witnessed the emergence of a democracy movement as well as its subsequent suppression in Tiananmen Square in the shadow of the Monument to the People’s Heroes.
Wu Hung. (2005). Remaking Beijing: Tiananmen Square and the creation of a political space. Chicago : University of Chicago Press.
Source: Knapp, Ronald G.. (2009). Monument to the People’s Heroes. In Linsun Cheng, et al. (Eds.), Berkshire Encyclopedia of China, pp. 1512–1513. Great Barrington, MA: Berkshire Publishing.
Monument to the People’s Heroes (Rénmín Y?ngxióng Jìniànb?i ???????)|Rénmín Y?ngxióng Jìniànb?i ??????? (Monument to the People’s Heroes)