Tiananmen Square Today
On special occasions like national holidays, so many Chinese tourists crowd into Tiananmen Square that it can take hours to push and shove your way from one end to another. The eve of the opening ceremony of the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games is apparently not one of those days.
Tiananmen at midday today was so empty that kids were skateboarding there.
The once-open plaza was divided into several sections by walls of trees--presumably to prevent mass demonstrations like the one in 1989 that made the square infamous. Only a handful of soldiers in uniform stood at attention, making sure the visitors didn't touch the elaborate works of art made out of plants and flowers that looked like Macy's Thanksgiving Day floats. A group of tourists unfurled an Algerian flag, but no one seemed to care.
In describing Beijing's "coming out party," officials have said they expected the city to be overwhelmed with visitors--some 500,000 overseas tourists, 500,000 domestic tourists, and 20,000 journalists--but it's unclear how many actually showed up. With new visa restrictions and worries about unrest, some tourists that had purchased tickets to sports events are still at home. More than a few Beijing residents, too, have fled the city. Tour operators say there are brisk sales of tour packages that are specially designed for Beijingers who want to stay away during the Olympics.
--Ariana Eunjung Cha
August 7, 2008; 11:00 AM ET
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