The Temple of Heaven is considered the most holy of Beijing's imperial temples. It has been described as "a masterpiece of architecture and landscape design".
The Temple of Heaven has also been listed as World Cultural Heritage by UNESCO.
The Temple of Heaven was built in the Ming Dynasty (AD 1420) by the emperor Zhu Di in the royal garden. Once a year, at winter solstice, the emperors came here to worship Heaven and to solemnly pray for a good harvest.
Since his rule was legitimized 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 not without a measure of self-interest that the emperor fervently prayed for a very good crop.
In line with the Confucianist revival during the Ming dynasty, the sacred harvest ceremony was combined with the emperor's worship of his ancestors.
According to the Confucian pattern of social organization, just as the emperor respected his ancestors, so a younger brother should respect an elder brother, a wife her husband, a son his father, and a nation's subjects their ruler.
Incorporating ancestor worship within the most solemn ceremony of the imperial ritual calendar indirectly reinforced the social philosophy that preserved the emperor's power.
The design of the Temple of Heaven complex, true to its sacred purpose, reflects the mystical cosmological laws believed to be central to the workings of the universe. Both the overall arrangement and the buildings themselves reflect the relationship between sky and earth, the core of understanding of the Universe at that time.
Hence, complex numerological permutations operate within its design. For example, because the number nine was considered to be the most powerful, the slabs forming the Circular Altar have been laid in multiples of nine.
Similarly, within the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvest, the interior twenty-eight columns are divided into four central pillars to represent the seasons, twelve inner columns to represent the months, and twelve outer columns to represent the two hour sections that make up a day. There are many such examples of this intense numerology at play. Another interesting fact is that the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvest is built completely without nails.
Although in imperial times commoners were not allowed to enter the enormous park, now for a minimal fee everyone can enjoy it all day long.
Early morning is the best time to visit The Temple of Heaven. It is well worth waking up for; you will have an interesting experience watching local people doing morning exercises.
Next to an older person practicing the slow and flowing movements of tai chi there might be a youngster performing vigorous karate-like punches and kicks; one group might be learning the ancient martial art of sword fighting, while another would be practicing a traditional dance.
Tai chi is a martial art style which places emphasis on the development and control of qi (Consciousness) energy within the body.
During the class you will get a full illustration of tai chi by tai chi master, a demonstration by Yang Style tai chi master, learn taiji quan, and after class, have the chance to try. The class is always in the morning.
Duration: 30 minutes
Price: USD 98 (combined with tour package)
Any standard package tour of Beijing should include a visit to The Temple of Heaven. Click here for our Classic China Tours which take in this inspirational temple.