Last week, my roommate and I met a student who wanted a language partner to practice for the TOFEL (Test of English as a Foreign Language. He needs it to apply to graduate school in the US). We agreed to meet twice a week so that he could practice conversational English and we could practice our Mandarin. Of course, his English is FLAWLESS…typical Tsinghua. He’s lived in Beijing for ten years and offered to show us some sights around the city, so on Saturday, we headed to the Temple of Heaven.
This is the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvest:
It was initially built in the 1400s for the emperor to pray for agricultural prosperity and opened as a park around 1920. You can read more about its history here, here, or here. In addition to tourists, many locals come to do tai chi or just take walks on the grounds. Groups of people were playing Chinese chess and card games that involved a lot of slapping down cards.
Fun to watch! Also, there were groups of people patriotic singing songs. For example, my personal favorite: 我爱你我的北京我的家园 (I love you my Beijing, my home). Watch it here and then wonder what exactly you just watched.
I was surprised at the size of the park… it was huge. I find it so interesting to think about the development of this city, and how much of the space is devoted to parks like this one. Sort of like Central Park in NYC, but bigger, and more of them! Also, there’s a central meridian that runs North to South through the city. It passes through Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City, as well as through the Olympic complex in the North. Our Chinese friend told us it also runs through the Temple of Heaven park. Walking on meridian kind of gives you a harmonious and balanced feeling. It felt like we had stepped out of the city, since the park felt so peaceful it was hard to imagine that outside the gates was bustling Beijing craziness.
There’s an incredible amount of symbolism that went into the design of this temple. For example, a lot of the number 9 (doors that were designated for the emperor’s use only were decorated with nine rows of nine). Also, much of the architecture has to do with the intersection of square and round. Heaven was perceived to be circular, while the earth was square.
This is the Imperial Vault of Heaven.
It’s surrounded by a circular “echo wall.” You turn towards the wall and speak into it, and someone on the opposite side of the circle can hear you as if you were standing next to them.
The Circular Mound Alter:
This is the Center Heavenly stone in the middle of the alter. The number of marble tiles around the center ring is 9, then 18 in the second, all the way until the 9th ring, which has 81 tiles. Also notice the alter itself consists of 3 concentric circles.
If you can’t already tell, the air was “crazy bad” that day… this is a shot of the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests.