Raising of the Chinese flag at sunrise; Tiananmen Square, Beijing

I’ve spent maybe a month in Beijing since last year, over three separate trips, but I had yet to see the raising of the Chinese flag, and the playing of the national anthem, at Tiananmen Square. It happens daily at sunrise. So, on my final morning in China, I decided to wake up at 3:30 a.m. and walk an hour to Tiananmen Square, arriving at quarter-to-five in the morning, a full 45 minutes before today’s 5:31 a.m. sunrise. It was not early enough to beat the Chinese tourists. My spot wasn’t terrible, but it certainly wasn’t front row. It was a unique way to spend sunrise, but not surprisingly it was anti-climactic. The entire ceremony lasts only a few minutes.

I thought the crowd's behavior was embarrassing: lots of pushing, shoving, and a general lack of respect. I’m reluctant to say that this would never happen in America, but I don’t think that this would happen in America. If the raising of the national flag was a daily event outside of the White House, I just can’t imagine the same level of disrespect: for the occasion, or for others.

Chinese citizens anxiously await the raising of the flag at sunrise; Tiananmen Square, Beijing.

The empty streets of Beijing, outside of Zhangzizhong metro station, at about 3:45 a.m.

What appears to be a father and son walk underground between Tiananmen Gate and Tiananmen Square, en route to the flag-raising ceremony.

The infamous Beijing Hotel, near Tiananmen Square, at about four-thirty in the morning; the infamous Tank Man photograph was taken from a sixth-floor balcony at the Beijing Hotel.

Moments before the sunrise raising of the Chinese flag at Tiananmen Square.

Moments after the sunrise raising of the Chinese flag at Tiananmen Square.

Anxious tourists, nearly all of them Chinese, race across the street to secure a better viewing location inside Tiananmen Square, while others wait in line to cross the street.

Tiananmen Square before sunrise; Beijing, China.

After the flag-raising ceremony, at Tiananmen Square metro station.

Chinese workers sleep on the subway, shortly before 6:00 a.m.