The Temple of Heaven, Beijing

The Emperor of China was thought to be the son of Heaven. He derived his authority not just by succeeding the Emperor before him from his dynasty, but from his performance as one who could care for his people. Primarily, the Emperor was responsible for feeding the people. A good year with good harvests and plentiful food would be an affirmation of the Emperor’s power. If there were bad years and people starved, the Emperor was seen as not deserving of the blessings of Heaven and his authority was in question. For that reason, the Emperors were highly motivated to pray for rains and good harvests.

Twice a year, from the Forbidden City, the center of Beijing, the crossroads of the world– after all, China calls itself The Middle Kingdom– the Emperor would make his way south with a large entourage of officials in ceremonial dress in a procession that would take three days (although in fact, it was only a couple of miles). During the time the procession was passing, people were to stay inside so as not to see the procession. Those who were by chance outside, had to fall to the ground and lie there with their faces down until the procession passed.

After a southward walk, the procession would turn east and then north again to enter the Temple complex. Once in the compound of the Temple of Heaven, the Emperor would make his way north and would spend three days fasting and praying before putting on special ceremonial garments and praying in the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests.

Here are some pictures of the complex:

The Imperial Vault of Heaven

The Imperial Vault of Heaven

Gate between Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests and Imperial Vault of Heaven

The Gate

The Gate

Our group August 2007 in front of the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests

Our group August 2007 in front of the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests

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