Friday, June 29, 2012

Beijing China: Temple of Heaven (The need of man to connect with Gods)

I am going to postpone my postings on Korea for a short while and write about my recent visit to Beijing last week. As I have mentioned in my earlier post, I would be relocating there soon and you should be expecting to see more posts (hopefully) on the beauty of Beijing and China for the next two years.

Although I was there for a week, we were busy going school and apartment hunting. I had to opportunity to squeeze out a day for sight seeing and I was contemplating where I should head to first. Yes. Beijing has that much to offer and even deciding which place to go can be perplexing. I opted for the Temple of Heaven as some other places are rather far off. Anyway, I have the entire two years here to explore them in depth.

I was staying at the Westin Beijing located in the city center. I took a cab from the hotel and braving the morning traffic where the major roads were still jammed pack, even at around 10:30am, the journey still took a good 40 minutes that cost me RMB40 (RM20).

Temple of Heaven, 天壇, is located at the southeast of Beijing. The entire ground covers 2.73 square kilometers and is huge, comprising of a series of religious buildings built between 1406 and 1420 under the reign of Emperor Yongle of the Ming Dynasty who also oversaw the construction of the Forbidden City when he moves his capital from Nanjing to Beijing.
Originally known as the Temple of Heaven and Earth, Emperor Jiajin during his reign renamed this as the Temple of Heaven and built three more temples, Temple of Sun on the east, Temple of Earth on the north and Temple of Moon on the west. In the 18th century, Emperor Qianlong of the Qing Dynasty carried out further extension and renovation to the existing structures.

I have seen the pictures of this place for hundreds of times before and have never really comprehend the massiveness of these structures, the ground it covers or her significance to the ancient Chinese empires....until I stood on her grounds....

The first sight that greeted was the Circular Mount Altar, Huanqiutan, the place where the ancient Emperors are to make offerings to the Gods of Heaven during winter solstice and to pray for a good harvest as well as worship of his ancestors.
Can you imagine the might Emperor Qianlong walking up these stairs during his heydays, in all solemnity and grandeur, offering prayers to the Heavens....?

Once passed the Circular Mount Altar, I am faced with the Imperial Vault of Heaven, a small round building housing the tablet of God of Heaven and the tablets of the emperor's ancestors. This structure is almost similar to the larger Hall of Prayer for Good Harvest, except that the Imperial Vault of Heaven is only single tier while the much larger Hall of Prayer consists of three tiers. The Imperial Vault of Heaven, built by Emperor Jiajing in 1530 and further renovated in 1752, was surrounded by a semi circular wall known as the Echo Wall, Huiyinbi. Legend has it that you can hear a whisper from one end of the wall to the other based on the ancient Chinese advance knowledge of sound waves. However, do not even hope to try to test this out, as the wall is perpetually crowded with tourist shouting at the top of their voice.
The beautiful woodcraft and intrigue designs of the Imperial Vault of Heaven. Simply amazing ....

The entire temple grounds are surrounded by beautiful green gardens consisting of hundreds if not thousands of mostly cypress trees, reputed to be hundreds of years old. The oldest apparently is close to 600 years old!

Linking the Imperial Vault of Heaven to the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvest, is the long Red Stairway Bridge, Dianbiqiao. This bridge is 30 meters wide and 360 meters long, slowly inclining upwards, as if one is now slowly strolling up to the heavens....
And after this long and impressive pathway and you will finally see this magnificent structure, The Hall of the Prayer for Good Harvest.

The Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests, Qiniandian, is located at the north of the Red Stairway Bridge and is the last huge structure in this temple grounds. This structure is a architecture wonder, 3 tier circular structure, supported solely by 28 pillars with absolutely no beams or nails in her construction. Why 28 pillars? The main four pillars in the center of the temple is known as the Dragon Well Pillars, 12 more to represent the 12 months in a year and 12 more to signify the 12 time periods of which a day is divided into. Each pillar is made out of a single tree trunk and the main four pillars (Dragon Well Pillars) is well over 19 meters tall! Considering that this structure was built in 1420, this is truly an amazing feat and a clear testimony of the ancient Chinese grasp of technologies we still marvel at today.
The vast temple ground ...I took this picture from one corner at the back of the temple ground where there were lesser crowd...Sitting there, if you could close your eyes and try to imagine the grandeur and the fanfare it must have been during the Ming or the Qing Dynasty when the Emperor, also known as the Son of Heaven, offer his prayers and worship to the Heavens and his ancestors, asking for blessings and a bountiful harvest for the people, knowing fully well that any countrywide famine or natural disasters would spell serious trouble to his reign and government, as he would have been perceived as being punished or abandoned by the Heavens and his offerings,  not accepted and his ancestors have not been appeased. 

With that in mind, it then began to make sense to the amount of thoughts, state funds, efforts, blood and sweat put in to put up these structures. Every circle and every square, every number, every column, pillar, bridge, walkway, pathway, steps and trees were there for a particular reason and omen, each according to the Chinese feng shui and believes, each meant to bring forth blessings, peace and prosperity. Herein, lies the underlying age old fact that no matter how powerful one is on earth, one can not but believe, accept and fear even, the ONE who is above.
If you look carefully into the design of the steps leading to the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvest, you will notice that it starts with designs of waves (water/sea), followed by tall mountains which stretches to the heavens denoted by the formation of clouds. I particularly like this picture because among the clouds, I have captured in the reflection of the sun.

Leaving the Temple of Heaven via the East Gate, I walked through a long corridor also called the Seventy Two Corridor which passes by the Imperial Kitchen. This corridor takes you past the vast cypress trees garden, truly a feast to the eyes. I was however stunned by what I saw as I walked past a particular section of this corridor. On both sides of the corridor were packed with locals, both young and old, men and women ...gambling!
I understand that this is the most common and favorite past time activities of the locals. I have even witnessed locals with their vans, cars or lorries parked by the roadside and the occupants happily having a game of cards sitting by the roadside. It saddens me when I see this supposedly sacred structure being `abused' in such a manner.

There is still much to see at the Temple of Heavens, such as the Rose Garden and the Hall of Abstinence which I have not yet visited. But I will be in Beijing for awhile and I will definitely make it a point to revisit this magnificent structure in other seasons, now that I have seen it in summer. Till then, stay tune for the next post on one of the seven wonders of the world, The Great Wall of China.....


  1. wow. gambling everywhere? if i were there, i would be admiring the picturesque scenery there and can't stop taking pictures i guess..

    Latest: TomYam-licious

  2. Hi Fish. Good morning. Yupe. Gambling everywhere and almost any corner. With Air Asia now offering very affordable round trips direct to Beijing, it is no longer that expensive to visit Beijing. Do come...and keep me informed....