Beijing: Day 1.

TIANANMEN SQUARE.

Located at the center of Beijing City is Tiananmen Square, where you can visit Tiananmen Tower, Monument to the People’s Heroes, Great Hall of the People, Mao Zedong Memorial Hall and see the national flag raising ceremony. Thousands of people come to the Square every day.

Part of Tiananmen Square.
Part of Tiananmen Square.

***
Inside the square:
1. Memorial of Chairman Mao. Memorial Hall of Chairman Mao is at the south side of the Square. This Hall is divided into three halls and Chairman Mao’s body lies in a crystal coffin in one of the halls surrounded by fresh bouquets of various famous flowers and grasses. This Memorial Hall (Mausoleum of Mao Zedong, Mao Mausoleum) is the resting place of Mao Zedong, Chairman of the Politburo of the Communist Party of China from 1943 and the chairman of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China from 1945 until his death in 1976.

Chairman Mao Memorial.
Chairman Mao Memorial.

2. Great Hall of the People. West of the Square is the Great Hall of the People, erected in 1959. It is where the National People’s Congress is held and also where state leaders hold diplomatic meetings and the masses stage political activities. Twelve marble posts are in front of the Hall which has three parts–the Central Hall, the Great Auditorium and a Banqueting Hall. The floor of the Central Hall is paved with marble and crystal lamps hang from the ceiling. The Great Auditorium behind the Central Hall seats 10,000. The Banqueting Hall is a huge hall with 5,000 seats.

Great Hall of the People.
Great Hall of the People.

3. Monument to People’s Heroes. The granite Monument to the People’s Heroes is just at the center of the square. Built in 1952, it is the largest monument in China’s history. The body of the monument is made up of 413 pieces of granite 32 layers deep. In the center of the north side of the monument, a single complete piece of stone, 14.7m long, 2.9m wide and 1m thick, is inscribed with large, glazed words by Mao Zedong which read: “Eternal Glory to the People’s Heroes.” The south side of the monument is composed of 7 pieces of stone with a draught of an epigraph by Mao Zedong and inscribed by Zhou Enlai, the first premier of the People’s Republic of China who served from October 1949 until his death in January 1976. The east and west sides of the monument are carved with patterns of five-pointed stars, pine trees and flags.
** The epigraph on the south side inscribed by Zhou Enlai is as follows:
Eternal glory to the heroes of the people who laid down their lives in the people’s war of liberation and the people’s revolution in the past three years!
Eternal glory to the heroes of the people who laid down their lives in the people’s war of liberation and the people’s revolution in the past thirty years!
Eternal glory to the heroes of the people who from 1840 laid down their lives in many struggles against domestic and foreign enemies for national independence, freedom and the well-being of the people!
(Note: the “past three years” refers roughly to the Chinese Liberation War (1946-1949); the “past thirty years” refers to the New Democratic Revolution from the May Fourth Movement in 1919 to the end of the revolution in 1949; and “from 1840” refers to the general struggle of the Chinese people against the various external and internal strife from the beginning of the Opium Wars to the establishment of the People’s Republic of China.)**

Monument to People's Heroes.
Monument to People’s Heroes.

Monument to People's Heroes (1)

4. Tiananmen Tower (Gate of Heavenly Peace). At the north end of the Square is Tiananmen Tower, the symbol of modern China and featured on the emblem of the People’s Republic of China. Initially built in 1417 during the Ming Dynasty (1368 A.D.- 1644 A.D.), the Square was the front door of the Forbidden City. The most important use of it in the past was to declare in a big ceremony to the common people who became the emperor and who became the empress. Until 1911 when the last feudal kingdom was over, no one could enter the Tower except for the royal family and aristocrats.

Tiananmen Gate (1)
Tiananmen Tower.

Tiananmen Gate (3)

Above the archway hangs a large portrait of Maozedong, on the east and west sides of which are two giant placards, the left one reading: “Long Live the People’s Republic of China” while the right one reading: “Long Live the Great Unity of the World’s Peoples.” In front of the Tiananmen Tower is golden water bridge, above which spans 7 white marble bridges with fine carvings. Same as the arch gateways, the central bridge as the widest one was reserved for the for Ming and Qing emperors, while the smaller side arches and bridges are employed as the passages for ministers and officials. Outside the gate there are two lions and two more guarding the bridges. Lions are believed to protect humans from evil spirits in Chinese culture.

Marble cloud pillar in front of the gate.
Marble cloud pillar in front of the gate.

FORBIDDEN CITY.
Lying at the city center, it was the imperial palace for twenty-four emperors during the Ming and Qing dynasties. It was first built throughout 14 years during the reign of Emperor Chengzu in the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). Ancient Chinese Astronomers believed that the Purple Star (Polaris) was in the center of heaven and the Heavenly Emperor lived in the Purple Palace. The Palace for the emperor on earth was so called the Purple City. It was forbidden to enter without special permission of the emperor. Hence its name ‘The Purple Forbidden City’, usually ‘The Forbidden City’. It is divided into two parts. The southern section, or the Outer Court was where the emperor exercised his supreme power over the nation. The northern section, or the Inner Court was where he lived with his royal family. Until 1924 when the last emperor of China was driven from the Inner Court, fourteen emperors of the Ming dynasty and ten emperors of the Qing dynasty had reigned here. Having been the imperial palace for some five centuries, it houses numerous rare treasures and curiosities.

***
Features: For security the Forbidden City is enclosed by a 10-meter-high defensive wall, which has a circumference of 3, 430 meters. At each corner of the Forbidden City, there stands a magnificent watchtower, which was heavily guarded in the past. Around the city there is a 52-meter wide moat as the first line of defense. The Forbidden City covers an area of about 178 acres with a total floor space of approximately 150,000 square meters (1,600,000 square feet). It consists of 90 palaces and courtyards, 980 buildings and 8,704 rooms.

***
Entrance: Many travelers enter the Forbidden City through Tian’anmen Gate, the Gate of Heavenly Peace. Through the gate, across an expansive brick-paved square, you will reach the main entrance to the palace, Meridian Gate. Meridian Gate was the place where the Emperor announced the new lunar calendar on the winter solstice. Once you enter through this gate, cross over the Golden Stream Bridge, you will then arrive at the outer court.

Meridian Gate.
Meridian Gate.
Golden Stream.
Golden Stream.

***
The Outer Court: The outer court is made up of three main buildings, the Hall of Supreme Harmony (Taihedian), the Hall of Central Harmony (Zhong he dian) and the Hall of Preserved Harmony (Baohedian). These halls were where the emperors attended the grand ceremonies and conducted state affairs.

The first hall is the Hall of Supreme Harmony, the most important and largest structure in the Forbidden City. The emperors' Dragon Throne (Longyi) is in this hall.
The first hall is the Hall of Supreme Harmony, the most important and largest structure in the Forbidden City. The emperors’ Dragon Throne (Longyi) is in this hall.
The placing of the sundial in front of the hall symbolizes that the emperor had the highest power to grant time to all the people in the country.
The placing of the sundial in front of the hall symbolizes that the emperor had the highest power to grant time to all the people in the country.
View around the Hall of Supreme Harmony.
View around the Hall of Supreme Harmony.
Rooftop statues.
Rooftop statues.

Behind the Hall of Supreme Harmony is the Hall of Central Harmony (Zhong he dian), the resting place of the emperor before presiding over grand events held in the Hall of Supreme Harmony. The day before the emperor held a sacrificial ceremony, he would read the prayer tablet aloud in this hall. Before offering sacrifices at the Altar of the God of Agriculture, the emperor also examined ceremonial farm tools here.

Hall of Central Harmony.
Hall of Central Harmony.
A throne is placed in the center of the hall and a board hangs above the throne with an inscription written by Emperor Qianlong. It reads: “Yun Zhi Jue Zhong,” meaning “The Way of Heaven is profound and mysterious and the way of mankind is difficult. Only if we make a precise and unified plan and follow the doctrine of the mean, can we rule the country well.”
A throne is placed in the center of the hall and a board hangs above the throne with an inscription written by Emperor Qianlong. It reads: “Yun Zhi Jue Zhong,” meaning “The Way of Heaven is profound and mysterious and the way of mankind is difficult. Only if we make a precise and unified plan and follow the doctrine of the mean, can we rule the country well.”

The last hall is the Hall of Preserved Harmony. The emperor changed clothes in this hall before an important ceremony. Banquets were held here in the Qing dynasty for the emperor’s princes, dukes, and ministers. Wedding ceremonies were also held here. While the hall was destroyed and reconstructed several times, it still retains its original beams and columns.

Hall of Preserved Harmony.
Hall of Preserved Harmony.
View around Hall of Preserved Harmony.
View around Hall of Preserved Harmony.

Below is the largest stone carving in the palace, at 16.75 meters long, 3.07 meters wide, and 1.7 meters thick, weighing in at more than 200 tons! It was carved out of a huge natural stone in the early Ming Dynasty, when the three main halls were constructed. With beautiful interlocking lotus patterns all around, the huge stone carving has curling waves at the bottom and nine dragons amidst clouds in the middle, as the dragon is an imperial signal. The stone was quarried from Dashiwo in Fangshan in the western suburbs of Beijing. It was transported to the Forbidden City by sprinkling water on the way in winter to make an iced road. Then it was pulled all the way to the palace along the iced road.

Largest stone carving.
Largest stone carving.
Afterwards, travelers will pass through the Gate of Heavenly Purity, the main gateway to the inner living court.
Afterwards, travelers will pass through the Gate of Heavenly Purity, the main gateway to the inner living court.
Lion statues outside of the Gate of Heavenly Purity. Lions are believed to protect humans from evil spirits in Chinese culture.
Male lion statue, holding a ball of power, outside of the Gate of Heavenly Purity. Lions are believed to protect humans from evil spirits in Chinese culture.

***
The Inner Court: The inner court is composed of the three main structures at the rear of the Forbidden City, namely the Palace of Heavenly Purity (Qian qing gong), the Hall of Union and Peace (Jiao tai dian) and the Hall of Earthly Tranquility (Kun ning gong).

The first structure inside the inner court is the Palace of Heavenly Purity, where the emperor lived and handled political affairs.
The first structure inside the inner court is the Palace of Heavenly Purity, where the emperor lived and handled political affairs.

Palace of Heavenly Purity 2

Behind it is the Hall of Union and Peace, where the imperial seals were stored.
Behind it is the Hall of Union and Peace, where the imperial seals were stored.
The third hall is the Hall of Earthly Tranquility, the emperors' wedding room.
The third hall is the Hall of Earthly Tranquility, the emperors’ wedding room.

Besides the three main buildings there are the six eastern palaces and six western palaces, where the emperor used to handle everyday affairs, and which were the living quarters of the emperor, expresses and concubines. Those palaces have been converted into exhibition halls, where a set of imperial collections are displayed.

Side palaces found after the Hall of Earthly Tranquility.
Side palaces found after the Hall of Earthly Tranquility.

There is a beautiful and tranquil garden at the end of the Forbidden City.

Gardens.
Gardens.
1,000 yr pavillion from the Ming Dynasty.
1,000 yr pavillion from the Ming Dynasty.

***

Construction of the Palace: The palace complex exemplifies traditional Chinese lavish architecture and has been used as a model that has had significant influence on cultural and architectural developments throughout East Asia. It is alleged that as many as 1,000,000 workers and 100,000 artisans participated in the construction of this imperial palace. The massive project ordered by Emperor Yongle of the Ming Dynasty was undertaken in 1406 and took 14 years to complete. The stone needed was quarried from Fangshan, a suburb of Beijing. It is believed that a well was dug every fifty meters (164 feet) along the road so that in the winter water could be easily poured onto it. This would then freeze and huge stones were slid across it to make transporting them to the city easier. The huge amounts of timber and other materials needed were hauled in from faraway provinces.
*Ancient Chinese people displayed their very considerable skills in building it. Take the grand red city wall for example. It has an 8.6 meters wide base reducing to 6.66 meters wide at the top. The angular shape of the wall totally frustrates attempts to climb it. The bricks were made from white lime and glutinous rice while the cement is made from glutinous rice and egg whites. These incredible materials make the wall extraordinarily strong.
*Since yellow is the symbol of the royal family, it is the dominant color in it. Roofs are built with yellow glazed tiles; decorations in the palace are painted yellow; even the bricks on the ground are made yellow by a special process. However, there is one exception. Wenyuange, the royal library, has a black roof. The reason is that it was believed black represented water then and could extinguish fire.

Moat surrounding the Forbidden City.
Moat surrounding the Forbidden City.

***
TEMPLE OF HEAVEN.
Originally, the Temple of Heaven was the place where emperors of the Ming Dynasty (1368 – 1644) and Qing Dynasty (1644 – 1911) held the Heaven Worship Ceremony. It is China’s largest and most representative existing masterpiece among China’s ancient sacrificial buildings. First built in 1420, the 18th year of the reign of Emperor Yongle of the Ming Dynasty (1368 – 1644), it was enlarged and rebuilt during the reigns of the Ming emperor Jiajing and the Qing emperor Qianlong. In 1988, the Temple of Heaven was opened to the public as a park, showing ancient philosophy, history and religion. Its grand architectural style and profound cultural connotation give an insight into the practices of the ancient Eastern civilization.

Construction: Covering an area of 2,700,000 square meters (3,529,412 square yards), the Temple of Heaven is larger than the Forbidden City! As the ‘Sons of Heaven’, Chinese emperors were prohibited from building a dwelling for themselves that was greater than the earthly residence dedicated to Heaven, hence the difference in overall size of the two complexes. The temple is enclosed by a long wall. The northern part within the wall is semicircular, symbolizing the heavens, and the southern part is square, symbolizing the earth. The northern part is higher than the southern part. This design shows that the heaven is high and the earth is low and the design reflected an ancient Chinese thought of ‘the heaven is round and the earth is square’.

***
1. The Long Corridor. 5 meters in width and 350 meters in length, the Long Corridor is composed of 72 rooms sharing the same back wall, the roof ridge and eave, hence also known as the Seventy-Two Connected Rooms. It is an enclosed passage connecting the Animal Killing Pavilion, the Divine Kitchen, and the Divine Warehouse. On the eve of the sacrificial ceremony, the corridor was lit up by lanterns and all the offerings including jade, silk, grains, and fruits, were transported to the altars along the Long Corridor. There are colorful pictures on the top of the porch. Benches are set between the pillars.

The Long Corridor.
The Long Corridor.

2. Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests. The Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests is a circular building which is 32 meters (105 feet) in diameter and 38 meters (125 feet) high, sitting on a huge round white marble platform named Altar for Grain Prayers. Covering over 5,900 square meters (64,000 square feet), the altar has a height of six meters, consisting of three floors; each of which is surrounded by carved white marble railings. The stairs connecting each floor are decorated with huge relief. The Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests has three layers of eaves; each layer is covered with blue colored glaze symbolizing the heaven. The layer-by-layer eave creates an atmosphere of getting closer to heaven.

Hall of Prayer for Good Harvest.
Hall of Prayer for Good Harvest.

Inside Construction: The Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests is a masterpiece of wood frame construction. Inside the hall there is no beam, but 28 Phoebe columns and 36 pieces of interconnected squared rafters. These large columns have different symbolic meanings: The four posts along the inner circle represent the four seasons – spring, summer, autumn and winter; the 12 posts along the middle circle represent the 12 months; and the 12 along the outer circle represent 12 Shichen (an ancient Chinese timing unit equaling two hours). The ceiling and the columns are decorated with fine colorful paintings. In the central hall, there is a flat circular marble with naturally formed dragon and phoenix patterns, and the name “dragon and phoenix stone” was thus given. According to legend, originally the stone only had a phoenix pattern, while there was a dragon pattern on the ceiling. As time went by, the dragon and the phoenix fell in love with each other. The dragon always flew down to date with the phoenix. Unexpectedly, one day, Emperor Jiajing (1507-1567) of the Ming Dynasty held a worship ceremony in the hall, and knelt down on the stone. It was too late for the dragon to fly back and it was pressed into the stone forever. Today you can see the dragon and the phoenix together on the stone. Standing in the middle of the hall, the Sacred Altar is the most sacred part, on which the Heaven Great Tablet is placed. On the eastern and western sides of the Sacred Altar stand four ancestral tablets of Qing Dynasty (1644 – 1911) respectively.

Inside the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvest.
Inside the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvest.

On the two sides of the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests are the West Annex Halls and the East Annex Halls. The two annex halls used to be the storeroom of divine tablets. Now the West Annex Halls are set as a Worshipping Heaven Ceremony Exhibition Hall, displaying sacrificial utensils and the whole procedure about worshipping heaven by the emperor. The East Annex Halls are now changed into a Worshipping Music and Dancing Hall, exhibiting Shao Music instruments, such as bells and chimes. By means of text description, pictures, light boxes, models, sound and electricity, etc., the music and dancing scene of the ceremony is vividly demonstrated to the visitors.

360 degree view of the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvest, and the East and West Annex buildings.
360 degree view of the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvest, and the East and West Annex buildings.

3. Circular Mound Altar. It is an open three-layered circular stone altar. During the Ming and Qing Dynasties (1368 – 1911), the emperors would offer sacrifice to Heaven on the day of the Winter Solstice every year. This ceremony was to thank heaven and hope everything would be good in the future. Founded in the 9th year of Emperor Jiajing (1530) of the Ming Dynasty (1368 – 1644), it is the very heart of the Temple of Heaven and thus it is also known as the Terrace of Worshipping Heaven.

Circular Mound.
Circular Mound.

a. Lingxing Gates: 24 groups of Lingxing Gates are set around the walls. Each group includes three openings – the middle one, a special passage for the Heaven Great being the biggest; the west one for the emperor is smaller; the east one is the smallest, and is used for the accompanying personnel for the worship ceremony.

Lingxing Gates.
Lingxing Gates.

b. Architectural Art of 9: In ancient China, odd numbers were called positive numbers, and even numbers were called negative numbers. 9 is the biggest positive number, so 9 was used to show the imperial authority. The number of fences and steps of Circular Mound Altar is either 9 or a multiple of 9. The Circular Mound Altar has three layers. The upper layer consists of fan-shaped stones, a total of 9 circles. The innermost circle has 9 stones. 9 pieces of stone were added progressively for every circle to the outside.

Art of 9

c. Heavenly Centre Stone: Also known as Sun Stone, is one of the most distinct, design-wise, in the Temple of Heaven. It is a slightly protruding, round stone slab, in the center of the uppermost terrace of the Circular Mound. If you stand on it and shout or knock, the sound waves will be clearly echoed. In ancient times, at the Worshipping Heaven Ceremony, the ritual officer would stand on the stone to read the oration and the thunderous sound seemed to be reaching to heaven.

Us standing on the Heavenly Centre Stone.
Us standing on the Heavenly Centre Stone.

d. Firewood Stove: Before the ceremony of worshipping Heaven began, a clearly washed and shaved calf was put on the stove and burned with pine twigs and reeds in order to welcome the God of Heaven- a ritual of Giving a Warm Welcome to the Imperial God by Burning Firewood. After the ceremony was completed, all the offerings, and ceremonial placards and silk scrolls, were transferred to the stove with great respect and burnt while the emperor stood by watching- a ritual process called “Observation of the Burning.”

Firewood Stove.
Firewood Stove.

e. Burning Stove: They are smaller iron stoves for burning the offerings. 8 stoves placed here were used to burn the offerings placed in front of the tablets of the first 8 generations of the Qing Emperors worshipped as the accessory deities.

8 Burning Stoves.
8 Burning Stoves.

f. Circular Pool: East of the Firewood Stove lies a circular pool with a diameter of less than 1 meter and a depth about 30 cm, which was used to handle the fur, tail and blood of ritual sacrifices.

Circular Pool.
Circular Pool.

4. Echo Wall. The Echo Wall encloses the Imperial Vault of Heaven. Its perimeter is 193 meters (633 feet). The wall is flat and smooth, which allows sound waves to pass smoothly. If you and your friend stand by the wall behind the East Annex Hall and the West Annex Hall respectively and you whisper a word, then your friend will hear clearly what you said. The phenomenon utilizes the theory of sound waves, resulting in a “mysterious atmosphere”.

Entrance to the Echo Wall.
Entrance to the Echo Wall.

a. Imperial Vault of Heaven. Founded in 1530, it is the place for housing the Gods’ tablets to be used at the Ceremony of Worshipping Heaven. At 19 meters (62 feet) in height and 16 meters (52 feet) in diameter, the hall is a finely interlaced wooden structure with a blue tile roof crowned with a gilded sphere. It has a coffered ceiling with a bluish green design of a gilded coiling dragon playing with a pearl at the center, and another 360 small dragons around. In the middle of the hall stands a circular stone seat carved with patterns, on which the Heavenly Great Tablet is placed. Many imperial ancestral tablets sit on both sides.

Imperial Vault of Heaven.
Imperial Vault of Heaven.
Inside Imperial Vault of Heaven.
Inside Imperial Vault of Heaven.

The West Annex Halls and the East Annex Halls were dedicated to the memorial tablets of the moon, star, cloud, rain, thunder and lightning gods.

A larger view of inside the Echo Wall. You can see the Imperial Vault of Heaven as well as the East and West Annex buildings.
A larger view of inside the Echo Wall. You can see the Imperial Vault of Heaven as well as the East and West Annex buildings.

***

Today’s Temple of Heaven: There are over 60,000 varieties of tree. The most famous tree is the grandfather tree – a 500-year-old Nine-Dragon Cypress with branches like nine dragons winding with each other. These trees create a quiet environment and an ideal resort for the locals to do their morning exercise. Residents living near the Temple of Heaven enjoy many activities here, such as running, cycling, singing, dancing, playing chess, flying kites, etc. You can become involved personally in these activities and experience the leisure pursuits of local people.

500 yr-old Nine-Dragon Juniper Tree
500 yr-old Nine-Dragon Juniper Tree
Dancing among the trees.
Dancing among the trees.
Locals playing Chinese checkers during their leisure time.
Locals playing Chinese checkers during their leisure time.

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Lindsay View All →

Our roots will forever be from here, America, born and raised. Yet, life requires us to move more frequently than we care to count. Whether living stateside or abroad, you can always find us traveling somewhere. We scout out places that you only think you can dream of one day seeing and we seek out those that aren’t found in guidebooks. We then bring them to life here in our travel memos, so hopefully, one day you too can visit them or at least be able to live vicariously through us. This blog isn’t just about crossing off places from a bucket list. It’s about absorbing and learning how other cultures grow and fit into the same world that we do. Life is short and the world is big. Enjoy and get out there!

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