Through my eyes

living my life without regrets

Wednesday, April 08, 2015

42. Beijing, China. Day 3 - Temple of Heaven -

Beijing, China. (Day 3)

Day 3 in Beijing, Temple of Heaven
Entrance to the Temple of Heaven

A bit south of our hotel on Tian Tan Don Men, is the tourist attraction, The Temple of Heaven. To many people it is just another temple and there were some bored faces when we visited. We took the subway #5 to get to this Park and when we stepped off the train a few Americans from Utah guided us to the entrance of the site. They had been in Beijing for
Painted Ceiling of the Covered Walkway on the
Way to the Hall of Prayer For Good Harvests
months already and knew the exact way. At the entrance to the Temple, a young man 36 years old, offered to be our guide for about 2 hours and wanted 300 Renminbi for his services. He looked OK to me and we hired him to show us around but at the renegotiated rate of 150 Renminbi for 2 hours (U.S. $23.-). His name was Bob. He turned out to be a nice chap.

Hall of Prayer For Good Harvests

There are 3 main sections to the actual temple complex plus many smaller buildings that served as storage buildings in the past and various other facilities like changing rooms for the Emperor, etc. 

Hall of Prayer For
Good Harvests

Inside the Hall of Prayer
For Good Harvests

More Inside the Hall of Prayer
(Taken From a Painting)

More Inside the Hall of Prayer

Imperial Vault of Heaven, Smaller Version
of the Hall of Prayer
Circular Echo Wall Behind the Vault

Bob pointed out some of the buildings and guided us to the most important ones.
·         The Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests (see above)
·         The  Imperial Vault of Heaven with its circular Echo Wall and
·         The Circular Mound Alter with the Heart of Heaven in its center platform.

Bob’s English was good but his knowledge of ancient Chinese history was a bit limited. So I researched some of the information below.
The Circular Mound Alter and We Are
Standing on the Heart of Heaven in the Centre

I want to talk about Kublai Khan. He was the first non-Chinese Emperor, a Mongol, the grandson of Genghis Khan the conqueror.  Kublai took this Emperor “job” because his father did not want it. Kublai did not speak Chinese. He could not read or write Chinese. Yet he declared himself Emperor over all of China. How is that possible? Well, part of the answer lies in this Park, the ‘Temple of Heaven’ where I am now, or it lies in the belief system of the Chinese which this Park represents.
Many People Dancing in the Park Area
Around the Buildings

The beliefs of the Chinese are ancient and go back to the years before the Common Era (BC). An emperor is basically a unifier of all kingdoms, small or large. Each kingdom is ruled by a king and all the kings are ruled by the emperor. This emperor/king relationship is the same worldwide. The ability of an emperor to handle these subservient kings requires great skill and savvy. The emperor has to be a clever man to subjugate his kings. He can dominate the kings and their constituents through brute force but…
Park Used For Many Activities

What also counts in ruling an empire is the gentler understanding of his subjects and the belief system of the county. That is what this Temple is all about. Kublai Khan had conquered the Kings, made them Vassals, gave them limited powers, gave them new titles like General or Minister, etc. but he also massaged their egos. Those Kings were powerful, smart men in their own right and the Emperor had to ‘rule’ them with an iron fist. It was important, however, to not make them lose face before their constituents. After securing the Kings, the next step for the Emperor was to have the rest of his subjects accept him as the ultimate ruler. Here is where it gets tricky. I am now trying to only look at Kublai with an imaginary Chinese mind in Kublai’s time.
Building Where the Emperor Changed From
Travel Clothes to Prayer Clothes

A Mongol is not Chinese. His culture is different. He prays to a different god. He eats different food, lives by different laws, etc. People can accept a lot of these differences but it would be very difficult to change their religious beliefs or their traditions. So instead of fighting to change the people, Kublai seemingly adapted to their systems. He even used China’s ancient beliefs to help secure his position as Emperor in China.
Large Gate Between Sections of the
Temple of Heaven

China has a “Mandate of Heaven”, an ancient belief in how the world was created. The Mandate explains who is in charge of China and why, who can or should be in charge over China and how to behave and what to do for the betterment of China.

Back to thinking like a Chinese in Kublai’s time.

Now China has a ‘new’ Emperor, a Mongol. What will he be like? He showed that he is powerful; he showed that he can handle the strong Kings and by that alone he is entitled to be King of Kings or Emperor. This point is confirmed in our Mandate which we received from the Heavens and from our ancestors.

But what did the gods say? Did the gods give this new Emperor permission to rule over China? Oh, this is not a frivolous question. If this new Emperor, this Kublai Khan, can talk to the gods and bring us farmers a good harvest and enough food to eat and some wealth too, then yes he was sent to us by the gods. Then we can accept him.
Sculpture on Many of the Eaves

And that is where Kublai Khan was very, very smart. He understood perfectly the psyche of the masses. Just like a true Chinese Emperor he performed the ancient Chinese rituals in every small detail right here in the park where the Temple of Heaven is now. Yes, the buildings we see today, as they are now, were not here then, but Beijing was where Kublai Khan became and ruled as Emperor.

According to Chinese belief, this “Temple of Heaven” is the most important spot in the Universe. This exact spot is the centre of the Universe. Kublai Khan and later dynasties only made the spot visually accurate. The Temple here was erected to show the world how the whole relationship between the gods and the son of the gods (the Emperor) functions. Whenever there was a need to contact the gods, the Emperor now had a very specific spot to consult them. He did this at least once a year at the winter solstice. More often he did it at least twice a year. It was always a very solemn ceremony. Only selected people could witness this display of heavenly closeness of the Emperor and the gods or could hear his spoken prayers for rain, for example.
Nine-Dragon Juniper Tree
Explanation of the Nine-Dragon Juniper Tree

Closer Look at the Nine-Dragon Juniper

Logically this spot makes China the centre of the world, the centre of everything. This is nothing to laugh at; slowdown in your thinking here. It is a powerful belief. All of China still believes in it today. The Ming dynasty, the next dynasty after the Mongol Yuan Dynasty, built a Temple where the son of the gods (the emperor) could contact the gods. China was sure and still believes that they are ruled by the “I Ching” and the “Heavenly Mandate”.

Based on “I Ching”, the emperor is the “son of the gods” and is the only person on earth who can actually communicate with the gods and ask the gods for favors. If an emperor predicts the wrong time to plant rice, if something goes wrong in the empire of China, if natural disasters cause damage, then the emperor has lost his image as the ‘son of the gods’ and they will send a more capable man to take his place.

In my example the chosen man of the gods is Kublai Khan, a Mongol. The Chinese might think:
“We understand that he is a bit different but the gods sent him. Look what he did to our Kings. He conquered them. He could only do this because he can talk to the gods, we saw him praying to the gods at the Temple of Heaven Park and see, the harvest is good, we have no disasters and everybody who works hard can make some money. He must be the right man, sent to us by the gods, never mind that he is a Mongol”.
Purpose of This Structure Not Known by Our Guide
Sacrificial Alter?

Subconsciously a similar thought went through every Chinese mind in 1271, I am certain.

Is it difficult to understand? Is it too simplistic? Remember China was always a very agricultural county; Simple farming folks with lots of superstitions. As long as people can eat and make money, then all is well. Change that and you will have a revolt, an uprising, a civil war, upheaval or whatever you want to call it. Kublai Khan was accepted. He did some great things for “his” people.
·         He built new canals and fixed the old canal system that connected all the major rivers, making it easier to move merchandise, to make money for the merchants (and move his armies, too).
·         He built a Fleet of ships to trade with foreign lands and made lots of money.
·         He invited an exchange of ideas with the West. Marco Polo comes to mind. Kublai was the Emperor Marco dealt with. Kublai introduced paper money and a new payment system (Kublai could have stolen this idea from the Italian bankers, maybe even from Marco Polo himself).
·         He installed a Postal system in China.
·         He was the Emperor who sent the new Chinese Navy to conquer Japan in 1274 when a Typhoon wiped out the new Navy before it could land on Japan. Kublai tried to conquer Japan twice this way. Yes, he did this twice and twice a typhoon wiped out the Chinese Navy to the delight of Japan. Japan called these winds, these Typhoons “Divine Winds” or in Japanese, Kamikaze. Japan used this analogy during World War II when the Kamikaze pilots were like the Divine Winds, sent by their gods to save Japan.
Ornate Art Work Inside and Out

A lot of new things happened to China between 1250 and 1350. The catalyst was Kublai Khan, the “Sage” of China as he was later called.

Kublai moved the Capital of China from Xian to Zhi Yuan in northern China. Zhi Yuan translates to “Capital of the Yuan Dynasty”, the early name of today's Beijing. Not only did that move of the capital change China, it also changed the thinking of the Mongol tribes because now Karakoram was no longer the Mongol capital. Remember, the Emperor ruled over both, Mongolia and China. The “Great Khan” title still referred to Kublai Khan, he did not lose this title. The new Northern Capital was called Dadu in Mongolian. Anyhow, my point here is that Beijing was established as the Capital by Kublai Khan.
Hans Pointing to the Large Gate Separating
Different Sections of the Temple of Heaven

I could go on and on and give you more and more details about the conflicts at the time of Kublai, the wars he fought and won; the destruction and takeover of the Southern Song, the expansion of the Yuan Empire, of the Mongol Empire, etc.  It would be a book.

Please remember one thing from this report.

China, in 2015, still believes it is the center of the Universe. China believes that all other countries are just “peons”, waiting to be ruled by China.

Kublai played along with this idea; he used it to his advantage. He fasted for 3 days, changed into special clothing to pray, and had no women around him while he was at the temple of Heaven. He observed the rituals of the Chinese, did as his Chinese allies suggested to him, learned from his advisers. He sublimated himself to the Chinese belief system and used this belief to advance himself. Kublai was one of the smartest Emperors China ever had but also a brutal conqueror. But I don't want to pontificate.
I found HEAVEN
In China it Means a Seat, Toilet Paper and
it Flushes

The Temple of Heaven was Kublai’s turning point. This is the spot we visited while in Beijing. This is the Center of the Universe. We even stood at the exact spot at the “Temple of Heaven” where everything starts or ends; a spot very similar to where Kublai stood; on the same spot where other Chinese emperors stood many times and prayed or “talked” to the gods. The spot is a round, slightly elevated stone in the center of the Altar of Heaven called “The Heart of Heaven”.
This was written with an enlightened heart.

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