China Millennium Monument: A Milestone in Development
The China Millennium Monument was built during the transition between two centuries and is designed so that the process of walking through allows visitors to recall and reflect on the 5,000-year development of Chinese civilisation.
The China Millennium Monument, located between the old China Central Television (CCTV) building and the Military Museum of the Chinese People’s Revolution on the west extension of Chang’an Avenue, faces south and covers an area of 4.5 hectares (ha), which includes a total construction area of 42,000 square metres (sq.m). It does not have a large size, but has great significance as it was built to mark the beginning of a new millennium. Adopting traditional and modern design ideas, the monument is a combination of various artistic forms such as architecture, landscaping, sculpture and mural painting.
The monument is built in a symmetrical layout with all parts stretching southward and northward. It consists of three major parts: the Flame Square, the Bronze Path and the Monument of Heaven and Earth. Walking through the sunken Flame Square and the Bronze Path from south to north, one comes in front of the 27-metre (m)-high monument which looks like a giant sundial. The monument was built during the transition between two centuries and is designed so that the process of walking through allows visitors to recall and reflect on the 5,000-year development of Chinese civilisation.
A Symbol of Heaven and Earth
Over more than 5,000 years of study of the universe, ancient Chinese developed theories about the relationship between humans and nature and between heaven and earth. According to these ideas, humans should be in harmony with nature and the motion of heaven and earth should be the model for people’s code of conduct. These ideas still prevail in China today.
Therefore, the monument’s main parts are a large, rotating round structure 47 m in diameter which is
designed to symbolise heaven and the structure’s supporting base used to represent earth. The rotating round structure symbolises the continuous motion and changes of the universe. This is symbolic of the Chinese belief that humans should continue to progress and keep moving forward, just like heaven, and be inclusive of all things, the same as the earth.
The China Millennium Monument is an important commemorative structure that uses architectural language to mark the start of a new millennium and impress visitors. Designers maximised the size of architectural components. For instance, the 270 m length of the path and the 85 m diameter of the supporting base are the largest sizes possible under real-life conditions.
According to Dr. Yu Li, architect of the monument, the angle between the rotating round structure and its supporting base can increase the structure’s impression on the viewer. As a slope’s rotation is usually more impressive than a horizontal plane’s, the rotating structure was designed to have an angle of 19 degrees from the supporting base. A round flat stage on the rotating structure serves as an arena for performances, singing and dancing and also a reference point for identifying the centre of the rotating round structure. The monument’s 20-m-long rod was designed to enhance the visual effect and was not placed at the centre of the round structure. As a result, when the round structure rotates, the rod can highlight the rotation with the change of its location. Such a layout makes the monument look like a sundial.
The rotating structure has a large mass and size, and weighs about 3,200 tonnes, making it the first rotating structure of this size in the world. The large rotating structure is a product of modern technology. It is driven by 96 electric vehicles that run on a circular railway and enable its rotation. The structure can rotate one cycle every four to 12 hours.
A Flash of Inspiration for the Monument
People might wonder how the idea of building the monument emerged.
It is necessary to go back to 1993, when China lost its bid to host the 2000 Olympic Games. On the night of September 23, 1993, in a telephone interview with Science and Technology Daily, Beijing CPPCC vice chairman Zhu Xiangyuan indicated that China could deal with and overcome frustration, and that Chinese would continue to work hard for development to create more opportunities.
However, China’s failure in the bid disappointed Zhu and left him sleepless that night. He thought some landmark events or projects should be carried out to inspire people. He suddenly realised year 2000 was the start of a new millennium and also the Year of the Dragon in the Chinese lunar calendar, which he thought symbolised China’s rise and rejuvenation in the new century. After this, Zhu collected various documents to compare the evolution of Eastern and Western civilisations and to study causes of the decline of Chinese civilisation which started in the 15th century. Additionally, he noticed several grand celebrations would take place in 1999, including the 50th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China, Macao’s return to China and the transition to a new millennium. To mark the celebrations, an event was planned to solicit ideas and designs for building commemorative structures.
In April 1994, the Millennium Creativity—a One Hundred Day Celebration event was officially launched to the public. At first, Zhu proposed the conception of building the “China Millennium Wall.” After carefully reviewing his proposal, Zhu reconsidered and decided a monument would be preferable. He noticed walls were usually used to commemorate sorrowful memories, for example, the Communards’ Wall and the Wailing Wall. In his view, the monument should also function as a symbol of the unity of 56 ethnic groups in China. Consequently, Zhu wrote a document suggesting the creation of a China Millennium Monument and explaining the monument’s architectural and cultural connotations.
Chinese Culture in the Monument
The China Millennium Monument epitomises the quintessence of 5,000-year- old Chinese civilisation and the rejuvenation of Chinese culture. Both the materials and layout are meant to reflect the grandeur of Chinese civilisation. All of the structures are made of stone, which symbolises Chinese tenacity, simplicity, humility and toleration. Furthermore, stone also represents eternity and can endure for a long time.
Some numbers found within the monument have special symbolic meanings. For instance, the Flame Square is paved with 960 square stone tiles, symbolising China’s total area of 9,600,000 square kilometres (sq.km). On the western and eastern sides of the square are two fountains, which contain 56 spouts in total, symbolising 56 ethnic groups nourished by two mother rivers—yellow River and Yangtze River.
The 270-m-long and 3-m-wide Bronze Path at the centre of north Flame Square contains 5,000 horizontal lines marking significant events from 3000 BC to AD 2000. The description of these events includes more than 180,000 Chinese characters and touches many areas such as science, technology, culture, education, Heavenly Stems and Earthly Branches and zodiac animals. Moreover, in the circular gallery of the supporting base there are 40 bronze statues of ancient and modern Chinese luminaries in culture and science.
The China Millennium Monument is an important landmark for China’s ushering in the 21st century, incorporating traditional culture and modern designs. It is not only a celebration of China’s magnificent civilisation but also a sign of great Chinese rejuvenation.