Com­mu­ni­cat­ing with Heaven

Beijing (English) - - CONTENTS -

An­cient Chi­nese called the uni­verse “heaven” and re­garded it as the cre­ator of life on earth. Over the past sev­eral thou­sand years, em­per­ors, high-rank­ing of­fi­cials or com­mon­ers all de­voutly be­lieved in and wor­shipped this “heaven.”

Heaven Wor­ship­ping Cer­e­monies

The Tem­ple of Heaven re­flects China's an­cient ideas of sci­ence and tech­nol­ogy, cul­ture and ar­chi­tec­ture. The tem­ple served as a site for em­per­ors to wor­ship heaven, em­body­ing an­cient Chi­nese thoughts on har­mony be­tween man and na­ture and im­pe­rial au­thor­ity.

In an­cient China's agrar­ian so­ci­ety, peo­ple's sur­vival and de­vel­op­ment re­lied on na­ture. Peo­ple hoped that peace and pros­per­ity would be re­alised when em­per­ors held cer­e­monies to wor­ship heaven. Em­per­ors were be­lieved to con­duct di­a­logue with and tell peo­ple's wishes to heaven.

Ac­cord­ing to reg­u­la­tions and rites, em­per­ors of the Ming and Qing dynasties usu­ally fasted two days be­fore cer­e­monies of heaven wor­ship in the Palace of Ab­sti­nence to show re­spect to heaven.

Pur­suant to Em­peror Qian­long's re­quire­ments on em­per­ors be­fore the wor­ship cer­e­mony, em­per­ors were not al­lowed to han­dle crim­i­nal cases, hold feasts, en­joy mu­sic, sleep with em­presses or im­pe­rial con­cu­bines, see doc­tors or at­tend fu­ner­als, drink wine, eat meat, wor­ship gods and visit graves and need take a bath one day be­fore wor­ship.

Mean­while, of­fi­cials who ac­com­pa­nied em­per­ors in the cer­e­mony would stay in aux­il­iary rooms of Wu­liang Hall, await­ing their or­ders.

At 3 a.m. of the win­ter sol­stice, the em­peror and fol­low­ers as­cended the Cir­cu­lar Mound Al­tar il­lu­mi­nated by one hun­dred lanterns.

He then de­liv­ered a prayer for good har­vests on be­half of his sub­jects. Af­ter fin­ish­ing wor­ship, the em­peror kneeled at the Im­pe­rial Vault of Heaven. En­su­ing ac­tiv­i­ties also re­flected the em­peror's faith.

Ideals and Sin­cer­ity of the Em­peror

Through con­struc­tion and ex­pan­sion dur­ing the Ming and Qing dynasties, the Tem­ple of Heaven be­came a model of large build­ing com­plexes. The Tem­ple of Heaven is 1,724 me­tres long east to west, 1,650 me­tres long south to north, and oc­cu­pies an area of 273 hectares, four times as large as the For­bid­den City. It is di­vided by two en­closed walls into in­ner and outer tem­ples, form­ing a shape sim­i­lar to the Chi­nese char­ac­ter “回.”

The main build­ings are in­side the in­ner tem­ple, where the Cir­cu­lar Mound Al­tar is on the south and the Al­tar of Prayer for Good Har­vests is on the north, both ar­ranged on a south-north axis di­vided by a wall but linked by the 360-me­tre­long Danbi Bridge. Both of the al­tars, Palace of Ab­sti­nence, Di­vine Mu­sic Ad­min­is­tra­tion and De­part­ment for Sac­ri­fices con­sti­tute five ar­chi­tec­tural en­sem­bles in the Tem­ple of Heaven.

The Cir­cu­lar Mound Al­tar, also known as Di­vine Al­tar or Ter­race for Wor­ship­ping Heaven, is built based on the pro­to­type of an­cient field wor­ship cer­e­monies, fol­low­ing the rite of “wor­ship­ping heaven with bon­fires in the wild.”

The Tem­ple of Heaven com­plex also in­cludes the Im­pe­rial Vault of Heaven hous­ing tablets of gods and em­per­ors' an­ces­tors; the Echo Wall fa­mous for its acous­tic ef­fects; the Sanyin Stone ( Three­E­cho Stone) am­pli­fy­ing nearby sound; and the Qix­ing Stone (Seven-star Stone) re­lated to many leg­ends and sto­ries. The tem­ple is rich in its di­ver­sity of old trees, im­press­ing peo­ple with solem­nity and mag­nif­i­cence.

Pre­serv­ing Wor­ship Mu­sic

To­day, the Tem­ple of Heaven has be­come a school to teach peo­ple Chi­nese wor­ship rites and cul­ture, free of charge.

In the 1980s, the Di­vine Mu­sic Ad­min­is­tra­tion's restora­tion and pro­tec­tion at­tracted at­ten­tion, and ef­forts were made to re­vive Zhonghe Yayun. On the first day of 2005, the newly-ren­o­vated Di­vine Mu­sic Ad­min­is­tra­tion opened to the pub­lic with a new name of Chi­nese An­cient Im­pe­rial Mu­sic Ex­hi­bi­tion Hall, dis­play­ing mu­si­cal in­stru­ments and scores and cos­tumes in wor­ship cer­e­monies as well as stat­ues of an­cient Chi­nese mu­sic per­form­ers.

Staff mem­bers of the Di­vine Mu­sic Ad­min­is­tra­tion have sorted out mu­si­cal scores con­cern­ing the heaven wor­ship in the Qing Dy­nasty, and more­over, recorded over 20 mu­sic pieces that are per­formed with chimes and other tra­di­tional in­stru­ments.

Dur­ing the cul­tural week of the Tem­ple of Heaven in early 2005, nine an­cient mu­sic pieces for wor­ship­ping heaven were per­formed in pub­lic, in­clud­ing Fan­chaiy­ingdishen (lit­er­ally “wel­come the ce­les­tial em­peror with burn­ing fire­wood”) and Haiyusheng­pin­gri (“day of peace­ful world”). Ac­com­pa­nied by such mu­sic, more than 100 per­form­ers danced to the tune of tra­di­tional mu­si­cal in­stru­ments.

The Tem­ple of Heaven, a site wit­ness­ing an­cient heaven wor­ship cer­e­monies, has a long his­tory of nearly 600 years, and ap­peals to count­less vis­i­tors from home and abroad ev­ery year for its cul­tural sig­nif­i­cance in his­tory, pol­i­tics, phi­los­o­phy, astron­omy, weather, ar­chi­tec­ture, land­scap­ing, ethics, paint­ings, mu­sic and other ar­eas.

The Cir­cu­lar Mound Al­tar

The Hall of Prayer for Good Har­vests

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