See Mao, and Buy A Hamburger Too, In Communist Halls
BEIJING — WANT to rock to karaoke music in Tiananmen Square? Munch fast food in the Great Hall of the People? Stand where Mao Zedong declared the victory of communism?
It only takes money to do now what would have been unthinkable a few years ago in some of the most hallowed spots of communist China. For Westerners and many urban Chinese, Tiananmen Square may recall the heights and horrors of the 1989 pro-democracy movement and the frenzied excesses of Red Guards during the Cultural Revolution.
But for Liu Yanzhang, who operates one of 10 officially sanctioned photo kiosks, Tiananmen means big bucks. "We made 100,000 yuan [about $11,000] on national day," he boasts as he takes money from a tourist. "It was slow yesterday, but business is picking up."
Wandering around the vast expanse considered the political heart of modern China, there's no doubt that Tiananmen Square - like the rest of the country - is open for business.
For $5 a foreign visitor can climb atop the Tiananmen Gate rostrum, known as the Gate of Heavenly Peace when this was the main entrance to the emperor's Forbidden City. Chinese citizens pay $1.80. With the rostrum no longer declared off-bounds by emperors or communists, one can stand where Mao did on Oct. 1, 1949 to declare the founding of the People's Republic.
Across the square, thousands of tourists are sight-seeing and souvenir-shopping accompanied by amplified rock music at Qianmen Gate, a towering 15th-century Beijing landmark.
Even the Great Hall of the People - that bastion of communist officialdom and ceremony - has plunged into a fast-food service, prodded by droves of Chinese and foreigners crowding a nearby McDonald's and Kentucky Fried Chicken. In a corner of the cavernous State Banquet Hall, which can seat 5,000 people, an ordinary person can sit where President Richard Nixon did in 1972 and buy greasy Chinese snacks for about $1. The Great Hall set up a service and development center to diversify into snack food and ru nning cooking classes for Beijing restaurants and hotels to keep its 30 chefs busy when they are not feeding the powerful and famous.
Tiananmen's plunge into capitalism is part of market-style change shaking the socialist foundations of China's economy. Facing inevitable cutbacks in subsidies from the cash-strapped government, the institutions of Tiananmen Square are being forced into moneymaking schemes to stay afloat.
The Great Hall, where China's rubber-stamp legislature is holding its annual session, is weaning itself from government support, according to China Daily. In 1992 the landmark took in $3.5 million from admission-ticket, souvenir, and food sales and cooking instruction, the newspaper reported. About two-thirds of that went to cover administrative costs.
Since the Tiananmen Gate rostrum was opened in 1988, 4 million tourists have paid admission, also buying $150,000 or more in Mao memorabilia and other trinkets each year from the souvenir shop; Qianmen took in $100,000 last year; other Tiananmen institutions - the Museum of Chinese Revolution and the Museum of Chinese History - will follow suit, the newspaper said.
Even Mao, the hero of Chinese communism, has not been spared the capitalist onslaught. After gazing upon the embalmed Mao, visitors can buy souvenirs, books, flowers, and food from rows of small stalls encircling the leader's giant mausoleum.
Some Chinese have a hard time abiding such sacrilege. "Mao's mausoleum should not be occupied by the market," Liu Mingyuan, a teacher at People's University in Beijing wrote in a letter to China Youth Daily, a Beijing newspaper.
Contending that peddlers are now working the crowds as they enter the mausoleum, Mr. Liu sniffed: "This is happening at a time when China is vigorously developing a socialist market economy. People are not allowed to take pictures at some scenic spots. Then how can you allow people to take pictures of the sacred mausoleum of Chairman Mao to make money?"