The Temple of Heaven is the most holy imperial temples in
Beijing. For this is where the Emperor came every winter solstice to worship
heaven and to solemnly pray for a good harvest. Since his rule was legitimised
by a mandate from heaven, a bad harvest could be interpreted as his fall from
heaven's favour 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. This embellishment was also, in effect, self-interested.
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 with her husband, a son with 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
perpetuated 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. Hence, complex numerological permutations operate
within its design. For example, because the number nine was considered to be the
most powerful digit, you will see that the slabs that form the Circular Altar
have been lain 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 tranches that make up a day.
There are many such examples of this intense numerology at play.
Whereas in Imperial times commoners were not allowed to enter
the enormous park, now for a minimal fee Chinese citizens can enjoy it all day
long. Were you to visit at dawn you'd be surprised by the number of people there
performing their morning exercises. Next to an older person practising the slow
and flowing movements of Tai Qi there might be a younger one performing vigorous
karate-like punches and kicks. One group might be learning the ancient martial
art of sword-fighting, while another might be practising a traditional dance.
Should you have the energy and the inclination, it is well worth waking up early
one morning and visiting this park to watch such events take