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A Close Look at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing

Photographer: Roman Pilipey


Flanking the western edge of Tiananmen Square in downtown Beijing, the Great Hall of the People (GHOP), China's seat of government and center of state power, is one of the country's most iconic sites. There are diverging opinions about its Soviet-style architecture: for some, it is an intimidating and monolithic building representing China’s immense bureaucracy, while for others it symbolizes ethnic equality and national unity. The GHOP is used for many important political events, such as important anniversary celebrations, state funerals and memorial services for top-ranking leaders, and ceremonial activities by the government and the ruling Communist Party. Although tourists can visit certain parts and halls inside the GHOP, for millions of people, this huge building remains a mystery. Local and foreign journalists cover dozens of major political meetings and other important events at the Hall, but even their movements within the vast building are closely monitored and tightly controlled by security officers and People's Liberation Army (PLA) soldiers.

For two weeks every year in early March, the Hall opens its doors for the annual National People's Congress (NPC), the country's legislature, and the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) sessions which run simultaneously known as 'Lianghui' or 'Two Meetings’. While their movements remain restricted, during Lianghui journalists have more freedom to roam the building's network of halls and corridors while they cover various plenary sessions, group meetings and other events. Among the gems that can only be accessed at this time of year are a small room with portraits of German philosopher and revolutionary socialist Karl Marx and his compatriot and associate, fellow philosopher Friedrich Engels to the huge 'Great Auditorium' where Chinese leaders and other delegates gather for plenary sessions, just one of the many hidden corners of this huge building that are normally off limits. The building covers more than 170,000 square meters or around 1.8 million square feet of floor space, and it is 356 meters in length and 206.5 meters in width, with the 'Great Auditorium' which can seat 10,000 delegates.

Every Chinese province, special administrative or autonomous region has its own hall at GHOP, such as Xinjiang, Tibet or Beijing halls and many others. Every hall is furnished according to the cultural style of the region. The GHOP was completed in just ten months with more than 30 thousand people taking part in its construction. Iy opened in September 1959 along with the other ‘Ten Great Buildings’ to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China. Once called ‘luxurious parlor of the people’ by late chairman Mao Zedong, the Great Hall of the People remains the most important spot for the China’s modern day government as it continues to build on Mao's legacy.