The Great Hall of the People, the Chinese Congress

Beijing Travel Report Great Hall of the People

Where the Chinese "Congress" meets once a year

On the west side of Tiananmen Square, just across the boulevard, is a massive building called the Great Hall of the People.  It came about as part of the Ten Great Buildings project to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the establishment of the People’s Republic of China.

Built from 1958 to 1959, the huge building’s purpose was to provide a joint hall for the Central government, all the provincial governments, special administrative regions, and autonomous regions to represent the people within their areas of governance.

If your time to sightsee in Beijing is limited, I would not pick this over the Forbidden City, the Great Wall, or the Summer Palace.  But if you are a political junkie, then I would think this is a prime attraction for you.

Sadly, I did not get to visit inside.  There is just so much to see in Beijing in so little time on this last trip, that this did not make the cut.  I look forward to visiting in the future, and updating this post with more personal observations.

Here are some notes to give you a flavor of the place, so that you will want to go.

How Big is the Great Hall?

Just how huge, you ask?  HUGE!  It is 1168 feet tall by 678 feet wide, with the center peaking at 152 feet in height. That amounts to 1,849,239 square feet inside.

As basketball is a favorite sport in China now (Yes, since before Yao Ming), let’s put this in terms of basketball courts.  That would be 393 full basketball courts that could fit on all the floor space in the Great Hall.  (Based on 4700 sq. feet per court)   That is pretty HUGE.

What is the Great Hall Used for?

Beijing Travel Report Peoples Congress US Congress Comparision

The US Congress (blue) fits inside the Great Hall (red) with room to spare. - Click image to see map in Google Maps

This super big public building is the location for the two great meetings that happen each year.  One is the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) and the other is the National People’s Congress (NPC).

These assemblies are the closest things that you will find in China that serve the same functions as the US Senate, US House of Representatives, Congressional committees, and the President’s Cabinet.  It is not the same, as there are no open elections.  Most folks get in these organs of government by selective promotion on merit within the Communist Party.

The CPPCC is a series of committees from each local governing body and other defined social groups.  Its main function is to broadly sets internal governmental policies and budgets.

The other one, the NPC, is a 2987 member parliamentary body that debates different policies.  When it is not in session, the Standing Committee, a group of senior Communist Party officials, makes decisions and steers government policies.

It is also used for state occasions such as banquets, etc.

What will I Find Inside?

It takes a big building to house the government for over 1 billion people.  Here are some specifics to look out for when visiting:

  • The Great Auditorium – Center Wing
    Where most major speeches are given.  It can hold 10,000 representatives at once.  It is also now being used for concerts and such.  Look for the Red Star in the center of the ceiling.
  • The Main Auditorium – Center Wing
    For smaller meetings
  • Congress Hall – Center Wing
    Meeting place for the Standing Committee
  • Over 30 Halls Named After China’s Provinces and Regions – Center and North Wings
    Each conference hall is decorated in the style of that province or region that meets there.  America does something similar to recognize the states making up the Union.  Each of the American states has a place to decorate in the US Capital Building. I would love to see the different Chinese regional styles decorating these halls.
  • State Banquet Hall – North Wing
    The place for really big banquets.  The Chinese had a dinner here for President Nixon on his visit in 1972.  It can seat 7,000 guests for an event, or 5,000 guests for a banquet.
  • Standing Committee Offices – South Wing
    The southern wing houses the official administrative offices for the Standing Committee.  Don’t expect to be shown this on the tourist tour.

Can I Visit?

Sure.    Here are the things you need to remember when visiting the Great Hall:

  • Open for tourists when the two great meetings are not happening, or no other major political meetings are going on there.  The two great meetings normally happen in March each year.
  • Costs are minimal at around 30RMB ($5 USD).
  • Opening and closing times vary with the seasons.
    • 9 AM to 2 PM, December through March
    • 8:15 AM to 3 PM, April through June
    • 7:30 AM to 4 PM, July and August
    • 8:30 AM to 3 PM, September to November
  • Guns and Ammunition are not allowed (Haha. THAT I was already sure of!)
  • There is a Left Luggage Room to store your bags before entering the Great Hall.
  • Double check with your tour company or guide, as this info can change at any time.

If you ever get a chance to see this Great Hall, I don’t think you will be disappointed.  I am certainly looking forward to seeing it.  Of course, I am interested in the politics of how a country runs, and this is ground zero for China’s governing body.  Did I mention that it is HUGE?

Would you want to go see this?  Have you seen it?  Share below.


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