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Zero hour in Tiananmen Square

Posted by Scott LaPierre  August 8, 2008 03:18 PM

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(Text by Patty Wen / Globe Staff)

BEIJING -- If there is any doubt that the Olympics is synonymous with patriotism here in Beijing, one only had to visit Tiananmen Square, where crowds of flag-waving Chinese gathered Friday night. While most Beijingers chose to watch the opening ceremonies on television at home, this crowd chose the 109-acre historic plaza surrounded by the Mao Mausoleum, the Great Hall of the People and the National Museum.

At first, the crowd was kept behind barricades, and police said they did not know whether the public would be allowed entry. Officers, however, did allow journalists and photographers onto the plaza.

Meanwhile, around 6:45 p.m., a gathering on the east side of Tiananmen began chanting, "Jia You! Zhong Guo!" (Go China!) and "Jia You! Beijing!" (Go Beijing!)

By 7:15 p.m., the chanting grew louder and more intense, and police seemed visibly worried the group would get out of control. Officers began saying over a speaker, "Please quiet down" and "Please take care of your safety." Soon, the crowd -- some with Chinese-flag stickers on their face or "I Love China" T-shirts -- began attracting its own crowd of photographers and journalists. This turned up the volume of the chanting even more.

By around 7:50 p.m., the police opened up the barricades. The crowd roared and raced frantically onto the plaza. At one point, soldiers tried to slow the crowd down. They held hands trying to form their own human barricade -- but with limited success. The plaza quickly filled -- though the place, which can hold 1 million people -- was not packed. By 7:59, hundreds of people watched a clock on the east side of Tiananmen that counted down the seconds until 8 p.m., the start of the opening ceremonies. It was like a New Year's Eve moment. When the 8 p.m. time hit, the crowd cheered again -- and military guns blasted off a couple of rounds.

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