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A letter opens Tian'anmen
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A photo taken on May 28, 2008 shows Tian'anmen Square flooded with visitors. [File photo]

When the Tian'anmen Gate Tower was opened to the public 21 years ago, the occasion made a profound impression on Yang Dengyan.

At the time, Yang was the vice secretary general of the Beijing municipal government. Part of his job was to oversee the management of the Tian'anmen Gate Tower. He took part in the preparatory work for the tower's opening.

Looking back, the 82-year-old sighs emotionally, "The Tian'anmen Gate Tower is holy to the Chinese. Its opening proved that anything in China could be opened."

The period of closure

In the past, the Tian'anmen Gate Tower, the Great Hall of People and the Beijing Friendship Store were all inaccessible to the general public. In the 1980s, these bans were successively lifted.

Compared with the other two, the opening of the Tian'anmen Gate Tower was the one that made the greatest impression on the people of China, because in their eyes, the tower was not only a piece of historical architecture, but also a symbol of the nation.

In 1979, the Great Hall of People was opened to the public. It was seen as "a major signal of China's reform and opening up". The next year, Shenzhen, Zhuhai, Shantou and Xiamen were designated special economic zones. At the same time, the nation's top leadership began to consider opening the Tian'anmen Gate Tower.

In 1980, Li Xiannian, then vice chairman of the CPC Central Committee, submitted the first proposal. However, it was rejected at a time when thinking was still rigid.

At that time, Yang Dengyan recalls, the Tian'anmen Gate Tower was never opened unless there were important state events. Everyday work at the tower was simple and the management office only had eight staff workers.

Four years after Li submitted the proposal, a letter from an ordinary Chinese changed the fate of Tian'anmen.

In September 1984, Hu Yaobang, then general secretary of the CPC Central Committee, received a letter from a person called Hua Xing. In the letter, Hua wrote, "I moved from Shanghai to Beijing in 1954. Over the past 30 years, whenever I have walked past the Tian'anmen Gate Tower, I have found myself wondering when I would be able to enter 'the heart of the country'... All my friends laugh at me, but I still believe one day my dream will come true."

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