56 pillars likely to stay in Tiananmen Square

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 06 October, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 06 October, 2009, 12:00am

Tiananmen Square has been a no-build zone since the death of Mao Zedong in 1976, with the only permanent building built since then being Mao's mausoleum.

But that may no longer be the case, with the 56 pillars used as decorations during Thursday's ceremony for the 60th anniversary of the People's Republic likely to remain in the 440,000 square metre square.

Chen Wei, one of the directors of the anniversary parade, told the Beijing Morning News yesterday that the pillars, each representing an ethnic group, were 'very likely to be standing on Tiananmen Square permanently'.

Chen said no more than that, and as any change on the square would be politically sensitive and a subject of public controversy, his slip of the tongue was probably too much as it was.

The National Centre for the Performing Arts, to the west of the Great Hall of the People, has already sparked controversy.

Although it does not even border the square, and it has been a decade since it was proposed, the unconventional building known as 'The Egg' is still drawing criticism from people ranging from cab drivers to established architects.

One reason the 13.6-metre-tall pillars could be permanent is simply that each weighs about 26 tonnes. Much of the weight comes from a huge cement base and a steel core. The exterior is covered with fibreglass-reinforced plastic.

Lu Jiankang, the designer of the pillars, told the People's Daily website yesterday that he had heard about the decision to leave them there. 'The pillars imply that 56 ethnic groups are equal, unified and harmonious pillars of the motherland,' Lu was quoted as saying.

In reality, though, the Han constitute more than 92 per cent of China's population, and their proportion keeps expanding. Younger generations of ethnic minorities are giving up their cultures, traditions and even languages. And the degree of ethnic harmony is also debatable.

With deadly riots in Tibet before the Beijing Olympics last year still fresh in people's memories, Xinjiang was hit by bigger, more deadly ethnic clashes this year.

Tian Lu, a Beijing resident and amateur fung shui enthusiast, said the pillars were anything but harmonious.

'Harmony is a balance between yin and yang,' he said.

'The square is yin and the Gate of Heavenly Peace is yang. That's why the square is a place for mourning the dead and the gate a place where living leaders stand. The red pillars will sicken China with a fever.'