Ming Dynasty and the Temple of Heaven

The 16 emperors of the Ming Dynasty, who ruled China from 1368 to 1644, are responsible for many of the country’s top tourist destinations including the Forbidden City, the Temple of Heaven, the Great Wall, and the Ming Dynasty Tombs.

Zhū Yuánzhāng, the first emperor of the Ming Dynasty, was initially a poor peasant who in 1352, at the age of 24, joined the rebels fighting against the Mongol-ruled Yuan Dynasty that had been established by Kublai Khan in 1279. Zhū quickly rose through the ranks, and in 1356 the forces he commanded captured Nanjing in southern China, a city that ultimately became the first capital of the Ming Dynasty. During the next 12 years, Zhū’s forces defeated other rebel armies and captured their territory in southern and central China. In 1368, his army moved north and captured Beijing, the capital of the Yuan Dynasty, as the Mongols fled.

Known as the Hongwu Emperor, Zhū ruled for 30 years. He had a standing army of over 1 million soldiers; he instituted land reform, built dikes and irrigation projects to help the peasant farmers; he rewrote the legal codes although he also ruthlessly executed those who challenged him; he introduced paper currency (which quickly lost its value as he printed and distributed too much of it — some things never change with fiat money); and he fathered 26 sons and 16 daughters with his empress and 25 consorts.

Upon the Hongwu Emperor’s death, he was succeeded by his grandson, Zhū Yǔnwén, the Jianwen Emperor. His reign, however, lasted only four years as he was deposed by his uncle, Zhū Di, who was Prince of Yan, an area in northern China that included Beijing. Zhū Di, known as the Yongle Emperor, ruled from 1402 to his death in 1424. In 1403, he ordered that the capital be relocated to his power base in Beijing where he had the Imperial Palace (or Forbidden City), the Temple of Heaven, and the Ming Tombs built.

Temple of Heaven

The Temple of Heaven was built during the reign of the Yongle Emperor at the same time that the Imperial Palace (or Forbidden City) was constructed; both were completed in 1420. The complex was built on 675 acres of land (just over 1 square mile) south of Beijing and outside the old city wall. The emperors held annual prayer services and sacrifices here as they asked the Heavenly Power for good harvests. The temple complex was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1998.

The Temple of Heaven was opened as a public park in 1918, seven years after the downfall of the last emperor. It occupies a much larger parcel of land than the Forbidden City (next week’s blog) but has far fewer buildings. If I only had time to visit one of the two, I would choose the Temple of Heaven because of the beautiful, unique temple buildings, impressive large gates, and park-like setting.

When I visited here on my second day in Beijing, there were many people, generally elderly, playing cards and dominoes in this beautiful park; many younger people were here too playing music, singing, or engaging in group exercise and dance.

Group dance exercise

Long pavilion where people meet, talk, and play

A lively game of cards

A domino match

The southern part of the outer wall is square while the northern part is semi-circular, symbolic of the ancient Chinese belief that earth was a square and heaven a circle. Not surprisingly, the major prayer buildings are also circular. The primary building where the emperor prayed is the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests, a triple-gabled structure 118 feet in diameter and 125 meters tall. This wooden building stands on a three-layer marble base and it was constructed without nails. The original building was destroyed by fire in 1889 and a replica was later built.

Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests

Bas relief on the stairs of the Hall of Prayer

South of the Hall of Prayer is the Red Stairway (or Danbi Qiao) Bridge, a 1,200 foot elevated walkway flanked by centuries-old cypress trees, that leads to the Imperial Vault of Heaven. The northern part of the bridge is a bit higher than the southern part, so walking north to the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests is meant to be like walking up to heaven. The middle stone slab on the bridge was for the exclusive use of the emperor; the brick-paved path on the east side of the bridge is the Imperial Road that was used by the emperor’s family; the brick-paved path on the west side of the bridge is the King’s Road that was used by aristocrats and high-ranking officials.

The Red Stairway Bridge with decorations from National Day Golden Week

Gate on Danbi Bridge leading to Imperial Vault of Heaven (note Emperor’s Path in the center)

The Imperial Vault of Heaven was originally built in 1530 and then rebuilt into its current shape in 1752. This double-eaved building is 64 feet tall and 51 feet in diameter, and it stands on a single marble base. The wall around this structure is called the Echo Wall since it is supposed to be transmit voices from one side of the yard to the other. On the day I visited, many people were trying to communicate with friends at other parts of the wall, but it was so loud that I doubt if any were successful.

Imperial Vault from outside Echo Wall

Imperial Vault of Heaven from inside Echo Wall

Echo Wall

Marble banister, posts, and drainage dragons

South of the Imperial Vault of Heaven is the Circular Mound Altar. This is not a building but rather a platform set on three levels of marble where the emperor worshiped on the winter solstice. Nine is a sacred number for the Chinese, so all elements of this structure are multiples of nine. At the center is a round circle called the Heart of Heaven from which the emperor prayed for good weather. Around this circle are nine concentric circles each with nine more tiles than the previous one. On the north side of the Imperial Vault is a large pole from which lanterns were hung to call the people to the ceremony.

Gateway leading to the Circular Mound Altar

Lantern Signal pole

The Most Transparent Administration Ever

Barack Obama: “A democracy requires accountability, and accountability requires transparency.”
Roseanne Roseannadanna: “Never mind.”

Excerpts from a recent editorial in the Las Vegas Review-Journal, Nevada’s largest newspaper:

The Obama administration sat by doing nothing for seven hours that night, ignoring calls to dispatch help from our bases in Italy, less than two hours away. It has spent the past seven weeks stretching the story out, engaging in misdirection and deception involving supposed indigenous outrage over an obscure anti-Muslim video, confident that with the aid of a docile press corps this infamous climax to four years of misguided foreign policy can be swept under the rug, at least until after Tuesday’s election.

Not only did the White House do nothing, there are now reports that a counterterrorism team ready to launch a rescue mission was ordered to stand down.

The official explanation for why Obama administration officials watched the attack unfold for seven hours, refusing repeated requests to send the air support and relief forces that sat less than two hours away in Italy? Silence.

This administration is an embarrassment on foreign policy and incompetent at best on the economy – though a more careful analysis shows what can only be a perverse and willful attempt to destroy our prosperity.

These behaviors go far beyond “spin.” They amount to a pack of lies. To return to office a narcissistic amateur who seeks to ride this nation’s economy and international esteem to oblivion, like Slim Pickens riding the nuclear bomb to its target at the end of the movie “Dr. Strangelove,” would be disastrous.

I could not have said it better myself!

Kop Khun Krab.

© 2012 Kurt Brown. All rights reserved.

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One Response to Ming Dynasty and the Temple of Heaven

  1. Pete Trench says:

    Another great posting. Wish the U.S. luck tomorrow. We can depose our Emperor.

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