Tiananmen Square intrigued my 7-year-old only after she learned of Chairman Mao Memorial Hall (commonly also known as Mausoleum of Mao Zedong). If looking for things to do in Beijing with kids, here’s what you need to know about taking someone that age to see the Dear Leader long after his last breath was taken.
We hired a private guide and driver to tour Tiananmen Square and the Great Wall of China at Mutianyu through the Four Seasons Hotel Beijing concierge and I can’t recommend this strategy enough with kids in tow because of the convenience involved.
What is Tiananmen Square?
Tiananmen Square is one of the largest city squares in the world. It’s located in the center of Beijing and named after its north Tiananmen Gate that separates the square from the Forbidden City. It’s been the site of historic events including the protests of 1989 during which hundreds of civilians were shot by soldiers. Security is incredibly tight here to avoid repeat events.
One of the most popular things to do at Tiananmen Square is to see the daily flag raising and lowering. Check online for the exact timetable as the entire ceremony lasts just a few minutes and is easy to miss.
Tiananmen Square Is Enormous
Tiananmen Square looks massive on TV and is a lot of walking for adults, making it exponentially more tiring for kids on foot (no roller skates or scooters are allowed). During our visit cars and tour buses could only drop-off and pick-up in one area for security reasons and this location wasn’t that close to the mausoleum. You may enter the square from four different pedestrian entrances, but they all have security checkpoints with bag scanners.
Our guide allowed us to cut to the front of this queue, which was a major perk. Once inside, we passed the gigantic screens that show the sunrise and walked around to the mausoleum’s additional security checkpoint. My daughter was already tired of walking by this point.
Tiananmen Square Attractions
One could easily spend an entire day exploring Tiananmen Square attractions. It will also not surprise you that souvenir shops and restaurants outline the square as well. Not to worry about carrying drinks as there are a few stalls inside that sell concessions.
Monument to the People’s Heroes
This ten-story obelisk honors the martyrs of China’s revolutionary struggle during the 19th and 20th centuries. It bears names of revolutionary episodes along with an inscription in Mao Zedong’s handwriting that is translated as, “Eternal glory to the people’s heroes!”
Great Hall of the People
The meeting place of the Chinese parliament and where most of the PRC’s legislative activities take place is located on the western edge of Tiananmen Square. It’s the complex on the right pictured in the photo above. Unless there’s a national conference or similar taking place, Great Hall of the People is open to the public.
National Museum of China
Located on the eastern side of Tiananmen Square, our guide suggested that many people spend a full day alone in the National Museum of China, designed to show case the arts and history of China. Over one million artifacts cover the Yuanmou Man of 1.7 million years ago to the end of the Qing Dynasty (the last imperial dynasty).
Chairman Mao Memorial Hall
Here’s a run-down of our visit to Chairman Mao’s Mausoleum.
What can you bring?
Of course, verify this information before you go as it is subject to change. Passports are a must and ours were checked. Outside of that, you can bring your cell phone and wallet. Absolutely no photos are permitted, however.
Another perk to having a private guide is that she took my handbag at the mausoleum’s security checkpoint and met us with it at the mausoleum’s exit so there was no need to go back and forth to the car should I want my real camera, water and other necessities in my handbag. Lockers to place belongings are located to the east near the National Museum of China, but it’s quite a walk.
After passing through mausoleum security, you’ll be given the option to buy gorgeous white chrysanthemums to place at a giant seated statue of Mao (that I was told was meant to copy the Lincoln Memorial) just after entering the mausoleum. I believe they were $8 RMB each or so. There is no fee to enter the mausoleum.
It was at that moment that my daughter started to become nervous about what we were about to see. She did not want to buy a chrysanthemum. If you do place a chrysanthemum, it is customary to bow as you do so.
We arrived to the mausoleum quite early, maybe just after 9:00am and there was almost no line. However, what line there is moves quickly because you’ll be ushered past Chairman Mao without any time to stop. Everyone we spoke with told us not to be dissuaded by a line if there is one because it moves so quickly. Now I believe it.
What Does Mao Zedong Look Like?
He’s in a glass casket. On top of that, you’re viewing the glass casket behind a glass wall. The back of his head was backlit so between reflection on the glass and the light, he looks like a (very unscary) wax figure at peace.
Things to Think About When Taking Kids
My daughter didn’t understand why people were bowing and buying flowers. I admit that I was also surprised by the great level of affection that so many people in line still harbor for Chairman Mao. We have a number of books about Mao and a few vintage propaganda posters from our time in Hong Kong. Though we’ve never gone into great detail with her about who Mao was, she understands how he is viewed by the West and was more disturbed by the show of affection toward him than she was about seeing his actual body. I had to answer a lot of, “Why?” questions throughout the remainder of our journey.
We’re in a slightly different situation in that my daughter self-identifies as Chinese because she was born in Hong Kong. And, she’s very, very proud to be Chinese. The Chairman Mao Memorial Hall was just a confusing experience for her and I suspect other kids might feel the same way.
Is she happy we went? Yes. Would I take sensitive young children? Probably not. The entire walk through the mausoleum probably took five minutes from the time we hit the mausoleum security checkpoint, however.
Our guide told us that every February or so, Chairman Mao goes off display to have the Chinese herbs in his system refreshed. He’s also refrigerated for an entire month during that time.
A Note About Tiananmen Square Bathrooms
The only thing you need to know is that they are to be avoided at all costs the in-ground squat toilets are filthy. If your child is used to Western toilets, this is likely to be a disastrous experience for both of you.
Exploring Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square Is too Much for Young Walking Kids
The Forbidden City is across from Tiananmen Square and it was just too much walking for my daughter to explore both on one day. Plus, I didn’t do a very good job of getting her excited about the Forbidden City (which is a ton of walking on its own). I’ve been, so I’m fine to take her another time. Our tour also included a visit to the Great Wall of China at Mutianyu, so we rested our legs during the 90-minute car journey.
Because the only itinerary we had to follow was our own, we saw Tiananmen Square and Mutianyu and were back to the hotel in time for a late afternoon swim. It wound up being perfect.
What did your kids think of Tiananmen Square?