These are the soldiers who patrol the area between Tiananmen (the gate, not the square) and the Forbidden City.
The photo of the guards practising their gongfu (kungfu) martial arts skills is a classic. Click on the photo to go to the photo’s home page on Flickr, then click on All Sizes to check out their expressions!
When marching they look pretty impressive, but you’ll also see the human side of them. I once saw them lined up on parade, but they were all holding a variety of boutique shopping bags! Presumably the bags contained their dinner bowls (at least that’s what I was told).
They also have a basketball court there and occasionally you’ll see them out there playing. This is in-between Tiananmen and the entrance to the Forbidden City, one of the major destinations for tourists in Beijing. There are thousands of tourists there at any given moment.
In the West, these sort of things happen away from the public. In China, it’s all out there in the open. For me, that adds to the charm.