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A great place to take visitors near Beijing – Temple of Heaven

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Over my time living in Beijing, I must have gone to the Temple of Heaven about ten times; which is probably not a lot compared to others but I did enjoy taking visitors to see the beautiful temple and also to walk through the grounds in the lead up to the Temple.  I loved doing that.  And the reason I loved it is because of the Chinese (old and young; but mainly the older generation) exercising and enjoying themselves; playing a form of shuttlecock /ballroom dancing/performing tai chi/playing mahjong/singing opera and walking both frontwards and backwards.

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The ladies would hang their handbags on hooks on the wall and then go off and dance/sing etc.  I always enjoyed seeing the elderly out and about early in the morning doing their different forms of exercise.

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One particular activity I really enjoyed seeing was the elderly Chinese men (it was always in the main the men) writing calligraphy on the ground with a large brush – the characters were written in water so they didn’t last long in the heat, and were usually poetry or Chinese proverbs.  This to me is very ‘Chinese’ and I loved seeing the characters being written.  It saddens me to think that this will stop when the elderly pass.

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So what exactly is the Temple of Heaven…it’s not just another beautiful temple, it has a history like everything in China – the temple sits on large grounds and comprises a series of religious buildings situated in the southeastern part of Beijing so not hard to get to – taxi is easy as is the subway (and it’s near Hong Qiao Pearl markets so you can always [as I did] pop into the markets for anything – not just pearls). The complex was visited, once a year in winter, by the emperors of the Ming and Qing dynasties to worship Heaven and to pray for a good harvest. Since the emperor’s rule was legitimised by a perceived mandate from Heaven, a bad harvest could be interpreted as his fall from Heaven’s favor and threaten the stability of his reign. So, it was pretty much self-interest that the emperor prayed for a very good crop, well also I presume to ensure the Chinese people were well fed.

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So after walking through the gardens and viewing the outer buildings of the temple, you reach some steps to enter the temple (there are always steps in China; always!!).

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My final visit to the Temple of Heaven was with my brother and nephew when they visited me in 2013 and my nephew loved seeing the Chinese doing their forms of exercise.

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The temple complex was constructed during the Ming Dynasty in the 15th century during the reign of the Yongle Emperor, who was also responsible for the construction of Beijing’s Forbidden City. The complex was extended and renamed Temple of Heaven during the reign of the Jiajing Emperor in the 16th century.

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The temple was renovated in the 18th century under Emperor Qianlong. The Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests is a beautifully coloured, triple-gabled circular building, built on three levels of marble stone base, and is where the emperor prayed for good harvests.

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The building is completely wooden, with no nails. The original building was burned down by a fire caused by lightning in 1889. The current building was re-built several years after the incident.

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There is also a Circular Mound Altar which is an empty circular platform on three levels of marble stones, each decorated by carved dragons.

IMG_2884The center of the altar is a round slate called the Heart of Heaven where the emperor prayed for favorable weather. Because of the design of the altar, the sound of the prayer will be reflected by the guardrail, creating significant resonance, which was supposed to help the prayer communicate with Heaven. My first visit to the temple in 2010 was very early one morning and without the usual tens of thousands of visitors, I was able to try out the resonance – it worked!!!

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(this photo taken from Wikipedia)

A lovely place to visit in Beijing!!