Posts tagged Visit China

Letters from China: Hutongs, the Best Way to Experience the Beauty of Local Life in Beijing!

My dear travelers and fans of unusual trips, welcome to the new series of long-awaited travelogues from China on the Mr.M blog. The month of May will be dedicated to one of the cradles of human civilization and a country with thousands of years of written history – China. At the very beginning of today’s travelogue, I would like to thank the Ministry of Tourism of the People’s Republic of China – Visit China and the leading Turkish airline Turkish Airlines for the kind invitation and hospitality. With their help, the travelogues and fashion stories that you will have the opportunity to read this May were created and I sincerely hope that you will enjoy them.

If by any chance you missed reading the previous travelogues or want to remind yourself of some interesting things, take the opportunity to visit the following links:

  1. Letters from China: Explore the Peal of the Far East with Turkish Airlines
  2. Letters from China: The Peninsula Beijing, explore the first luxury hotel in the heart of Beijing
  3. Letters from China: Tiananmen Square, let’s explore The Gate of Heavenly Peace together
  4. Letters from China: The Temple of Heaven, the Imperial Sacrificial Altar in the Heart of Beijing
  5. Letters from China: The Summer Palace and The Great Wall of China

Today we will explore together one of the oldest Hutongs in the capital of the People’s Republic of China, Beijing. Hutongs represent a type of extremely narrow alleys that are a symbol of northern Chinese cities, especially in Beijing.

In Beijing, hutongs are alleyways formed by rows of xiheyuan, traditional courtyard residences. Siheyuan represents a historical housing type commonly found throughout China, most famously in Beijing and rural Shanxi. Throughout Chinese history, the xiheyuan composition was the basic pattern used for residences, palaces, temples, monasteries, family businesses, and government offices. In ancient times, a spacious xiheyuan would be occupied by one, usually large and extended family, signifying wealth and prosperity. Today, the remaining xiheyuans are often still used as split-level apartment complexes, although many lack modern amenities.

Many neighborhoods were formed by merging one siheyuan with another to form a hutong, and then merging one hutong with another. The word hutong is also used to refer to such settlements. Since the mid-20th century, many Beijing hutongs have been demolished to make way for new roads and buildings. More recently, however, many hutongs have been declared protected, in an attempt to preserve this aspect of China’s cultural history. Hutongs were first established in the Yuan Dynasty and then expanded in the Ming and Qing Dynasties.

During the dynastic period in China, the emperors planned the city of Beijing and arranged residential areas according to the social classes of the Zhou dynasty. The term “hutong” first appeared during the Yuan Dynasty and is a term of Mongolian origin, meaning “water well”. In the Ming Dynasty at the beginning of the 15th century, the center of Beijing was the Forbidden City, surrounded in concentric circles by the Inner and Outer City. Citizens of higher social status were allowed to live closer to the center of the circles. Aristocrats lived east and west of the imperial palace. The grand xiheyuan of these high officials and wealthy merchants often had beautifully carved and painted roof beams and columns and carefully landscaped gardens.

The hutongs they formed were tidy, bordered by spacious houses and fenced gardens. Beyond the palace, to the north and south, were the common people, merchants, artisans and workers. Their xiheyuans were far smaller in size and simpler in design and decoration, and their hutongs were narrower. Almost all Siheyuans had their main buildings and gates facing south for better lighting, so most hutongs run from east to west. Between the main hutongs, many small lanes led north and south for convenient passage.

Historically, the hutong as a term was also once used as the lowest level of administrative geographical divisions in a city in ancient China, as in the paifang system: the highest division in a city in ancient China was the canine, which is the equivalent of the current day ward. Each canine was surrounded by walls or fences, and the gates of these enclosures were closed and guarded nightly, somewhat like a modern gated community.

Each canine is further divided into several panels or pai, equivalent to the current community (or neighborhood). Each pai in turn contained an area that included several hutongs, and during the Ming Dynasty, Beijing was divided into a total of 36 canines. However, as the ancient Chinese system of urban administrative division gave way to population and household divisions instead of geographic divisions, hutongs were no longer used as the lowest level of administrative geographic division and were replaced by other approaches to division.

At the turn of the 20th century, the Qing court was disintegrating as China’s dynastic era came to an end. He also influenced the traditional arrangement of hutongs. Many new hutongs, built randomly and without any plan, began to appear on the outskirts of the old city, while the old ones lost their former neat appearance. The social stratification of the inhabitants also began to disappear, reflecting the collapse of the feudal system. Many such hutong-like areas have been demolished.

During the period of the Republic of China from 1911 to 1948, society was unstable, plagued by civil wars and repeated foreign invasions. Beijing deteriorated, and conditions in the hutongs worsened. Formerly owned and lived in by individual families, xiheyuans were and are shared by many households, with additions added as needed, built from whatever materials were available. The 978 hutongs listed in Qing Dynasty records had grown to 1,330 by 1949. Today in 2008, in some hutons, such as those in Da Shi Lan, conditions are still poor.

After the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, many of Beijing’s old hutongs were destroyed, replaced by wide boulevards and high-rise buildings. Many residents were forced to leave the streets where their families had lived in previous generations and move into high-rise buildings. In Sicheng County, for example, nearly 200 hutongs were demolished out of the 820 it boasted in 1949. However, many of Beijing’s ancient hutongs still exist, and some of them have been designated protected areas. Older neighborhoods survive today, offering a glimpse of life in the capital as it was for generations.

Many hutongs, several hundred years old, near the bell tower and drum tower and Shichahai Lake are preserved among the reconstructed modern two-story and three-story versions. This area is full of tourists, many of whom tour the neighborhood on bicycles. Today, as in the past, hutongs are home to celebrities, business owners and officials. After the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests, Zhao Ziyang spent his fifteen years under house arrest in a hutong. Zhao’s hutong was previously occupied by one of Empress Dowager Cixi’s hairdressers.

Hutongs represent an important cultural element of the city of Beijing. Thanks to Beijing’s long history and its status as the capital of six dynasties, almost every hutong has its own anecdotes, and some are even connected to historical events. In contrast to the court life and elite culture represented by the Forbidden City, the Summer Palace, and the Temple of Heaven, hutongs reflect the culture of Beijing’s citizens. Hutongs are residential neighborhoods that still form the heart of Old Beijing.

The pictures you can see in today’s post were taken in one of the oldest hutongs in Beijing – Yandai Xiejie (Yandai Xiejie in Chinese), Yandaikie Street (Yandaixie Street). Located in Xicheng District, it is close to Shichahai which are famous attractions in Beijing. It is 232 meters long with its eastern end at Di’anmen Street and its western end at the Silver Ingot Bridge. Stepping into the street for about 50 meters, one would come to the southern end of Dashibei Hutong, which goes to Drum Tower West Avenue (Gulou Xidajie). Crossing the Silver Ingot Bridge leads to Houhai Bar Street.

According to one of the many books, which was published during the reign of Emperor Qianlong of the Qing Dynasty, Yandai Biwai was originally called Drum Tower Xiejie and was changed to the name we know today at the end of the Qing Dynasty. It is recorded that during the Qing Dynasty, there were many pipe shops in this street, including one called Shuangshengtai. The owner of the shop placed a 1.5 meter high wooden smoking pipe as a sign. As time passed, the street was known throughout the city for its huge smoking pipe, hence its name. Some people also say that the street looks like a smoking pipe.

After the revolution ended in 1911, the Qing royal family was deposed, the army (Manchus fed by the Qing government) lost their income and many of them had to sell their possessions, such as antiques, to make a living. Gradually, many ancient markets were formed in Beijing, among which was the great Yandaikie Street. But after 1949, the antiques trade in this street gradually declined. Yandaikie Street lost its commercial position in the 1950s and many buildings were converted into residential buildings, including the Taoist Temple – Guangfu Guan.

At the beginning of the 21st century, more precisely in 2007, the street was renovated in order to regain its historical characteristics. Guangfu Guan became a tourist spot and many reproductions of classical architecture were built on the street. The buildings house shops for Indian clothing, Miao costumes and accessories, Tibetan costumes, Lijiang handicrafts, Shanxi ceramics, Chairman Mao badges and quotes, etc. If you want to experience Chinese commercial culture, the best way would be to buy some souvenirs and haggle with the merchants.

Every hutong has a name. Some have only had one name since their inception, while others have had several throughout their history. Many hutongs are named after their location, local landmark or business, such as: City gates, such as Inner Xizhimen Hutong, indicating that this hutong is located in the “Xizhimen Nei” or “Xizhimen Within” district, which located on the city side of the Xizhimen Gate, a gate on the city wall.

Markets and businesses, such as Yangshi Hutong (Yangshi literally means sheep market) or Yizi Hutong (the local term for soap is iizi) Temples, such as Guanyinsi Hutong (Guaniyinsi is the Kuan-yin Temple) Local features, such as Liushu Hutong (Liushu means willow), which was originally named “Liushujing Hutong”, literally “Willow Tree Well Hutong”, after a local well.

Some hutongs are named after people, such as Mengduan Hutong (named after Meng Duan, the Ming Dynasty mayor of Beijing whose residence was in this hutong). Others were given an auspicious name, with words with generic positive attributes, such as Xiqing Hutong (Xiking means happy) Hutongs that share a name, or longer hutongs divided into sections, are often identified by direction. for example, there are three Hongmen Hutongs (“Red Gate Hutong”), namely West Hongmen Hutong, East Hongmen Hutong and South Hongmen Hutong (all three Hutongs have been erased since 2011 and no longer exist).

While most Beijing hutongs are flat, Jiudaowan Hutong turns nineteen times. Located near Beikinkiao Station, its name jiǔ dào wān literally means “Nine Turns”. At its narrowest point, the Kianshi Hutong near Qianmen (Front Gate) is only 40 centimeters wide.

My dear adventurers, we have come to the end of this sixth and at the same time the last special travelogue in the series of travelogues about wonderful China where we had the opportunity to enjoy the beauty of this unusual country in the heart of East Asia. Today’s travelogue would not be possible without the selfless help of the Ministry of Tourism of the People’s Republic of China – Visit China, the world airline company Turkish Airlines and The Peninsula Beijing Hotel in collaboration with local partners who allowed me to feel the spirit and beauty of ancient Chinese culture and tradition. Of course, as always, I tried my best to convey to you my impressions about this unusual experience from China with Turkish Airlines.

A person is rich in soul if he has managed to explore the world and I am glad that I always manage to find partners of my projects who help me to discover new and unusual destinations in a completely different way.

I am honored to have the opportunity to cooperate with companies that are the very top of the tourism industry and I would like to thank Turkish Airlines once again for this amazing adventure and for allowing me to experience the beauty of this unusual Far Eastern culture in a completely different way.

How did you like my story about China and the presentation of the Hutongs which adorns the heart of this unusual capital of this interesting country in East Asia? Have you had a chance to visit China so far?

If you have any question, comment, suggestion or message for me you can write me below in the comments. Of course, as always, you can contact me via email or social networks, all addresses can be found on the CONTACT page. See you at the same place in a few days, with some new story!

In the following stories from China, we will discover some other interesting sights that you should visit if your journey leads you to this capital of this ancient faraway country!

With Love from Beijing,

Mr.M

This post is sponsored by world airline Turkish Airlines, Visit China and The Peninsula Beijing Hotel as well as other local partners. This post is my personal and honest review of the destination experience.

SHARE THIS POST

Letters from China: The Summer Palace and The Great Wall of China

My dear travelers and fans of unusual trips, welcome to the new series of long-awaited travelogues from China on the Mr.M blog. The month of May will be dedicated to one of the cradles of human civilization and a country with thousands of years of written history – China. At the very beginning of today’s travelogue, I would like to thank the Ministry of Tourism of the People’s Republic of China – Visit China and the leading Turkish airline Turkish Airlines for the kind invitation and hospitality. With their help, the travelogues and fashion stories that you will have the opportunity to read this May were created and I sincerely hope that you will enjoy them.

If by any chance you missed reading the previous travelogues or want to remind yourself of some interesting things, take the opportunity to visit the following links:

  1. Letters from China: Explore the Peal of the Far East with Turkish Airlines
  2. Letters from China: The Peninsula Beijing, explore the first luxury hotel in the heart of Beijing
  3. Letters from China: Tiananmen Square, let’s explore The Gate of Heavenly Peace together
  4. Letters from China: The Temple of Heaven, the Imperial Sacrificial Altar in the Heart of Beijing

Today we will explore together the complex complex of large ensemble of lakes, gardens and palaces in Beijing. It was an imperial garden in the Qing Dynasty.

The Summer Palace is a huge ensemble of lakes, gardens and palaces in Beijing. It was once a magnificent imperial garden in the Qing Dynasty. Inside are the famous Longevity Hill, Kunming Lake and the famous Seventeen Holes Bridge. This entire complex covers an area of almost 3 square kilometers, of which almost three quarters is surface water.

The Hill of Longevity is about 60 meters high and has many buildings arranged in a row. The front hill is rich in sumptuous halls and pavilions, while the back hill, in stark contrast, is silent with natural beauty.

Kunming Central Lake, which covers an area of 2.2 square kilometers, is completely man-made, and the excavated soil was used to build the Hill of Longevity. Inspired by the gardens of Southern China, the Summer Palace, there are over 3,000 different Chinese ancient buildings that house a collection of over 40,000 kinds of valuable historical relics from each dynasty.

In December 1998, UNESCO included the Summer Palace on its World Heritage List. The Summer Palace has been declared a masterpiece of Chinese garden landscape design. The natural landscape of hills and open water is combined with man-made elements such as pavilions, halls, palaces, temples and bridges to form a harmonious ensemble of exceptional aesthetic value. Especially in Chinese history, it is also the terminus of the Central Route of the South-North Water Transfer Project which has traveled 1,267 km from Danjiangkou Reservoir, Hubei, making it the main water supply of Beijing.

The origins of the Summer Palace date back to the Jin Dynasty led by Jurchen in 1153, when the fourth ruler, Wanyang Liang, moved the Jin capital from Huining Prefecture to Yanjing (present-day Beijing). He ordered the construction of a palace in the Fragrant Hills and Jade Spring Hill in northwest Beijing. Around 1271, after the Yuan Dynasty established its capital at Khanbalik (present-day Beijing), the engineer Guo Shoujing initiated a waterworks project to direct water from the Shenshan Spring (shén shān quán) to the village of Baifu (bái fú cūn), Changping to the western part – the lake, which will later become Kunming Lake.

Guo aimed to build a water tank that would ensure a stable water supply for the palace. Later in 1494, Emperor Hongzhi of the Ming Dynasty granted permission to build the Yuanjing Temple for his wet nurse, Lady Luo, in front of Yar Hill, which was later renamed Longevity Hill. The temple fell into disrepair and was abandoned over the years, and the area around the hill became lush with vegetation.

The Zhengde Emperor, who succeeded the Hongzhi Emperor, built a palace on the shore of the West Lake and turned the area into an imperial garden. He renamed Jar Hill “Golden Hill” and named the lake “Golden Sea”. Emperor Zhengde and Emperor Wanli enjoyed boating on the lake. During the reign of Emperor Tianqi, the court eunuch Wei Zhongqian took the imperial garden as his personal property.

In the early Qing Dynasty, Jar Hill served as a place for stables in the imperial palace. Eunuchs who committed offenses were sent there to weed and cut grass. At the beginning of Emperor Qianlong’s reign, many imperial gardens were built in the area around present-day Beijing’s Haidian District, and accordingly water consumption increased significantly. At that time, a large part of the water stored in the West Lake came from the fresh water spring at Jade Spring Hill, while a part came from the Wanquan River. Any disruption of the water flow from Jade Spring Hill would affect the water transportation and water supply system of the capital city. Around 1749, Emperor Qianlong decided to build a palace near Yar Hill and West Lake to celebrate the 60th birthday of his mother, Empress Chongqing.

In the name of improving the capital’s water system, he ordered the West Lake to be expanded further west to create two more lakes, Gaoshui Lake and Yangshui Lake. The three lakes served not only as a reservoir for the imperial gardens, but also as a source of water for the surrounding agricultural areas. Emperor Qianlong collectively named the three lakes “Kunming Lake” after Kunming Basin, which was built by Emperor Wu in the Han Dynasty to train his navy. The earth excavated from the expansion of Kunming Lake was used to enlarge Yar Hill, which was renamed “Longevity Hill”. The Summer Palace, completed in 1764 at a cost of over 4.8 million silver taels, was first named “Kingiiiuan”.

The design of the Summer Palace is based on the legend from Chinese mythology about the three divine mountains in the East Sea, namely Penglai, Fangzhang and Jingzhou. The three islands in Kunming Lake – Nanhu Island, Tuancheng Island and Zaojiantang Island – were built to represent the three mountains, while the lake itself was based on the West Lake design in Hangzhou. In addition, many architectural features in the palace were also built to resemble or imitate various attractions around China. For example, Phoenix Pier represents Lake Tai; Jingming Tower resembled Yueyang Tower, Hunan Pavilion Wangchang resembled a yellow crane tower, shopping streets were designed to imitate those of Suzhou and Yangzhou.

The centerpiece of the Summer Palace was the “Great Temple of Gratitude and Longevity.” There was also a Long Corridor with a length of more than 700 meters, which was equipped with artistic decorations. Since the palace was not equipped with facilities for long-term stay and daily management of state affairs, Emperor Qianlong hardly lived there and only stayed there for a day each time he visited.

As the Qing Empire began to decline after the reign of the Daoguang Emperor, the Summer Palace gradually became more and more neglected and the architectural features on the three islands were ordered to be dismantled because the maintenance costs were too high. Later, in 1860, British and French troops looted the Summer Palace at the end of the Second Opium War, and on October 18, 1860, the British burned the nearby Old Summer Palace. The destruction of the palace was ordered by Lord Elgin, the British High Commissioner to China, and was undertaken in response to the torture and imprisonment of two British envoys, a Times journalist and their entourage.

The destruction of large parts of the Summer Palace continues to cause outrage in China. In the period between 1884–95. During the reign of the Guangxu Emperor, Empress Dowager Qiqi may have ordered up to 22 million silver taels, originally intended to upgrade the Qing navy, to be used for the reconstruction and expansion of the Summer Palace to celebrate her 60th birthday.

However, some other sources state that a maximum of six million taels were allocated, none of which came from the Navy’s capital budget, but only paid accrued bank interest. As funds were limited, construction work was concentrated on the buildings in front of Longevity Hill and the dam around Kunming Lake. The Summer Palace also received its current Chinese name, “Yiheyuan”, in 1888. In late 1900, towards the end of the Boxer Rebellion, the Summer Palace suffered damage again when the forces of the Eight-Nation Alliance destroyed the imperial gardens and confiscated many artifacts that were in the palace, luckily the palace was rebuilt two years later.

Later, during 1912, after the abdication of Puyi, the last emperor, the Summer Palace became the private property of the former Qing imperial family. Two years later, the Summer Palace was opened to the public and ticket sales officially began. A few years later, in 1924, after Puyi was banished from the Forbidden City by the warlord Feng Yuxiang, the Beijing Municipal Government took over the management of the Summer Palace and turned it into a public park.

In the middle of the 20th century, the Summer Palace briefly housed the Central Party School of the Chinese Communist Party. Many of Mao Zedong’s friends and key Communist Party figures, such as Liu Yazi and Jiang Qing, also lived there. Beginning in 1953, major works were carried out on the restoration and renovation of the Summer Palace, which is now open to the public as a tourist attraction and park. In November 1998, the Summer Palace was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. In late 2006, the Chinese government also began issuing commemorative coins to celebrate the Summer Palace as a world cultural relic.

In short, the entire Summer Palace is centered around Longevity Hill and Kunming Lake, with water covering about three-quarters of the area. Most of the important buildings were built along the north-south axis of the Hill of Longevity, which is divided into the front and back hills. There are three small islands in Kunming Lake: Nanhu Island, Zaojiantang Island and Zhijingge Island. The West Dam of Kunming Lake divides the lake into two parts. The East Dam was built during the reign of the Guangxu Emperor. The attractions in the Summer Palace can be divided into six different parts or scenic areas: the Halls, the Hill of Longevity, Kunming Lake, the Agricultural and Weaving Scenic Area, the Long Corridor, and the Central Axis Area. The Summer Palace is among the most visited destinations in China, ranking in the top five and attracting around 10 million tourists a year.

The Great Wall of China is a series of fortifications that were built across the historical northern borders and ancient Chinese states. Imperial China built this series of fortifications as a form of protection against various nomadic groups from the Eurasian steppe. Several walls were built as early as the 7th century BC with selective sections later joined by Qin Shi Huang, the first emperor of China. Today, relatively little remains of the Qin Wall. Later, many successive dynasties built and maintained multiple sections of boundary walls. The most famous parts of the wall were built by the Ming dynasty. Besides defense, other purposes of the Great Wall included border control, enabling the imposition of duties on goods transported along the Silk Road, regulating or encouraging trade, and controlling immigration and emigration.

Furthermore, the defensive features of the Great Wall were enhanced by the construction of watchtowers, military barracks, garrison stations, signaling capabilities through smoke or fire, as well as the fact that the path of the Great Wall also served as a transport corridor. The border walls built by different dynasties have multiple layers. Together, they stretch from Liaodong in the east to Lop Lake in the west, from the present-day Sino-Russian border in the north to the Tao (Taohe) River in the south, along an arc that roughly outlines the edge of the Mongolian steppe; covers a total of 21,200 kilometers. Today, the defensive system of the Great Wall is widely recognized as one of the most impressive architectural feats in history.

The collection of fortifications known as the Great Wall of China has historically had a number of different names in Chinese and English. In Chinese history, the term “Long Wall(s)” (Changcheng) appears in Sima Qian’s Records of the Grand Historian, where it refers to the separate great walls built between and north of the Warring States and to the more unified construction of the First Emperor. The Chinese character chéng, meaning city or fortress, is a phono-semantic combination of the “earth” radical tǔ and the phonetic chéng, whose Old Chinese pronunciation is reconstructed as *deŋ. It originally referred to the ramparts that surrounded traditional Chinese cities and was used as an extension of these walls around their states; today, however, it is much more commonly the Chinese word for “city”.

The longer Chinese name “Ten Thousand Mile Wall” comes from Sima Qian’s description in the Records, although he did not refer to the walls as such. The 493 Song Book quotes the border general Tan Daoji as referring to the “10,000-mile long wall”, which is closer to the modern name, but otherwise the name rarely appears in pre-modern times. The traditional Chinese mile was an often irregular distance intended to indicate the length of a standard village and varied according to terrain, but was usually standardized at distances around a third of an English mile. However, this use of the word “ten thousand” is figurative in a similar way to the Greek and English countless and simply means “countless” or “immeasurable.”

Because of the wall’s association with the alleged tyranny of the First Emperor, post-Qin Chinese dynasties usually avoided referring to their additions to the wall as the “Long Wall”. Instead, different terms were used in medieval records. Poetic and informal names for the wall included “Purple Border” and “Earth Dragon”. It was only during the Qing period that “Long Wall” became a catch-all term for many border walls regardless of their location or dynastic origin, equivalent to the English “Great Wall”. Sections of the wall in the southern Gobi Desert and Mongolian steppe are sometimes referred to as “Genghis Khan’s Wall”, although Genghis Khan himself did not build any walls or permanent defensive lines.

In the following travelogues, you will learn more about the famous Hutongs… I am sure that this will be one of the most interesting adventures that you have had the opportunity to see so far on the Mr.M blog and will not leave you indifferent.

My dear adventurers, we have come to the end of this fifth special travelogue in the series of travelogues about distant China where we had the opportunity to enjoy the beauty of this unusual country in the heart of East Asia. Today’s travelogue would not be possible without the selfless help of the Ministry of Tourism of the People’s Republic of China – Visit China, the world airline company Turkish Airlines and The Peninsula Beijing Hotel in collaboration with local partners who allowed me to feel the spirit and beauty of ancient Chinese culture and tradition. Of course, as always, I tried my best to convey to you my impressions about this unusual experience from China with Turkish Airlines.

A person is rich in soul if he has managed to explore the world and I am glad that I always manage to find partners of my projects who help me to discover new and unusual destinations in a completely different way.

I am honored to have the opportunity to cooperate with companies that are the very top of the tourism industry and I would like to thank Turkish Airlines once again for this amazing adventure and for allowing me to experience the beauty of this unusual Far Eastern culture in a completely different way.

How did you like my story about China and the presentation of The Summer Palace and The Great Wall of China, which adorns the heart of this unusual capital of this interesting country in East Asia? Have you had a chance to visit China so far?

If you have any question, comment, suggestion or message for me you can write me below in the comments. Of course, as always, you can contact me via email or social networks, all addresses can be found on the CONTACT page. See you at the same place in a few days, with some new story!

In the following stories from China, we will discover some other interesting sights that you should visit if your journey leads you to this capital of this ancient faraway country!

With Love from Beijing,

Mr.M

This post is sponsored by world airline Turkish Airlines, Visit China and The Peninsula Beijing Hotel as well as other local partners. This post is my personal and honest review of the destination experience.

SHARE THIS POST

Letters from China: The Temple of Heaven, the Imperial Sacrificial Altar in the Heart of Beijing

My dear travelers and fans of unusual trips, welcome to the new series of long-awaited travelogues from China on the Mr.M blog. The month of May will be dedicated to one of the cradles of human civilization and a country with thousands of years of written history – China. At the very beginning of today’s travelogue, I would like to thank the Ministry of Tourism of the People’s Republic of China – Visit China and the leading Turkish airline Turkish Airlines for the kind invitation and hospitality. With their help, the travelogues and fashion stories that you will have the opportunity to read this May were created and I sincerely hope that you will enjoy them.

If by any chance you missed reading the previous travelogues or want to remind yourself of some interesting things, take the opportunity to visit the following links:

  1. Letters from China: Explore the Peal of the Far East with Turkish Airlines
  2. Letters from China: The Peninsula Beijing, explore the first luxury hotel in the heart of Beijing
  3. Letters from China: Tiananmen Square, let’s explore The Gate of Heavenly Peace together

Today we will explore together the complex of imperial religious buildings that form the heart of the capital of China and where numerous historical events took place that changed the history of this unusual Far East country.

The Temple of Heaven is a complex of imperial religious buildings located in the southeastern part of central Beijing. The complex was visited by the emperors of the Ming and Qing dynasties for annual ceremonies of praying to Heaven for a good harvest. The Temple of Heaven was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1998 and is described as a masterpiece of architecture and landscape design that simply and graphically illustrates the cosmogony of great importance for the evolution of one of the world’s greatest civilizations. The symbolic layout and design of the Temple of Heaven has had a profound influence on architecture and planning in the Far East to this day.

Let’s take a look together through the interesting history of this imperial religious complex. The temple complex was built between 1406 and 1420 during the reign of Emperor Yongle of the Ming Dynasty, who was also responsible for building the Forbidden City in Beijing. The complex was expanded and renamed the Temple of Heaven during the reign of Emperor Jiajing in the 16th century.

JiaJing also built three other prominent temples in Beijing, the Temple of the Sun, the Temple of the Earth, and the Temple of the Moon. The Temple of Heaven was rebuilt in the 18th century during the Qianlong Emperor. The state budget was insufficient at the time, so this was the last extensive restoration of the temple complex during the reign of the emperors.

The temple was captured by the Anglo-French alliance during the Second Opium War. Later, in 1900 during the Boxer Rebellion, the Eight-Nation Alliance seized the temple complex and turned it into a temporary headquarters for forces in Beijing for a period of one year. With the fall of the Qing, the temple complex fell into disrepair. Neglect of the temple complex led to the collapse of several halls in the following years.

Later, in 1914, Yuan Shikai, then President of the Republic of China, performed a Ming prayer ceremony at the temple, as part of an effort to declare himself Emperor of China. In 1918, the temple was turned into a park and opened to the public for the first time.

This imperial religious complex is imposing and large as the temple area alone covers 2.73 square kilometers of parkland and consists of three main buildings, all of which were built according to strict requirements:

The Hall of Prayer for a Good Harvest is a magnificent circular building with three gables, 36 meters in diameter and 38 meters high, built on three levels of a marble stone base, where the emperor prayed for good harvests. The building is completely wooden, without nails. The original building burned down in a fire caused by lightning in 1889. The current building was rebuilt a few years after the incident.

The Hall of Prayer for a Good Harvest

The Imperial Vault of Heaven is a circular building with one gable, built on one level from a marble stone foundation. It is located south of the House of Prayer for Good Harvests and resembles it, but is smaller. It is surrounded by a smooth circular Echo Wall, which can transmit sounds over long distances. The Imperial Vault is connected to the Hall of Prayer by the Vermilion Steps Bridge, an elevated walkway 360 meters long that slowly ascends from the vault to the Hall of Prayer. The dome for this building also has no cross beams to support the dome.

The Imperial Vault of Heaven

The Circular Mound Altar is a preaching altar, located south of the Imperial Vault of Heaven. It is an empty circular platform on three levels of marble stone, each decorated with elaborately carved dragons. The numbers of the various elements of the altar, including its balusters and steps, are either nine, a sacred number in Chinese culture, or symbols of eternity. The center of the altar is a round slab called the Heart of Heaven or Supreme Yang, where the emperor prayed for favorable weather. Thanks to the design of the altar, the sound of the prayer will reflect off the guardrail, creating a significant resonance, which was supposed to help the prayer communicate with Heaven. The altar was built by Emperor Jiajing in 1530, and rebuilt in 1740.

It is also still customary for the Chinese to pray at this circular altar, where they pray and by turning around their axis, they believe that they are in direct contact with the cosmos and that their prayers will be answered.

The Circular Mound Altar

How was the prayer ceremony performed in imperial China? In ancient China, the Chinese emperor was considered the Son of Heaven, who governed earthly affairs on behalf of and represented the heavenly authority. It was extremely important to be seen as showing respect for the source of his authority in the form of sacrifices to heaven. The temple was built for these ceremonies, mostly with prayers for good harvests.

Twice a year, the emperor and all his retinue would travel from the Forbidden City through Beijing to encamp inside the compound, wearing special robes and abstaining from meat during the ceremonial process. No ordinary Chinese were allowed to see this procession or the following ceremony.

In the temple complex, the Emperor personally prayed to Heaven for good harvests. The culmination of the rite at the time of the winter solstice was performed by the emperor on the earthly mountain. The ceremony had to be perfectly completed, as it was widely believed that the slightest mistake would portend a bad omen for the entire nation in the coming year.

This temple has a special symbolism and I will try my best to explain it to you, since the guide was talking too fast, for the first time I have to keep an audio diary myself to fully understand the meaning of this place. According to ancient Chinese belief, earth was represented by a square and Heaven by a circle, several features of the temple complex symbolize the connection of Heaven and Earth, the circle and the square. The entire temple complex is surrounded by two cordon walls; the outer wall has a taller, semicircular northern end, representing Heaven, and a shorter, rectangular southern end, representing Earth.

The Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests and the Circular Mound Altar are round, each standing on a square courtyard, again representing heaven and earth. The number nine represents the Emperor and is evident in the design of the circular mound altar: one round marble slab is surrounded by a ring of nine slabs, then a ring of 18 slabs, and so on with a total of nine surrounding rings, the outermost with 9×9 slabs.

The Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests has four inner, twelve middle and twelve outer pillars, representing the four seasons, twelve months and twelve traditional Chinese hours. Combined, the twelve middle and twelve outer pillars represent the traditional solar terms.

All buildings within the Temple have special dark blue roof tiles, which represent Heaven. The seven-star stone group, east of the Good Harvest Prayer Hall, represents the seven peaks of Mount Taishan, a place of heaven worship in classical China. There are four main supporting, dragon pillars each representing a season. The structure, held by these dragons, imitates the style of an ancient Chinese royal palace. The twelve inner pillars symbolize the lunar months, and the twelve outer pillars are thought to refer to the 12 two-hour periods of the day.

Attributes such as the appearance of the landscape and the originality of the historical building have been preserved either as originally built or reconstructed in the Qing Dynasty. Management and maintenance are carried out strictly in accordance with the records in historical literature and archaeological evidence, in order to preserve the historical condition, while the exhibitions held here regularly are also organized to reflect the authenticity of this imperial religious complex.

The general layout and architectural features of the estate clearly demonstrate traditional Chinese philosophical ideas, cosmogony, sacrificial rituals, and scientific and artistic achievements, as well as truly reflect the political and cultural concepts and historical characteristics of the time.

The surrounding park surrounding this religious imperial complex is quite extensive, with the entire complex covering 267 hectares (660 hectares in total). Some of them consist of playgrounds, exercise and game areas. These facilities are used by adults as well as parents and grandparents who bring their children to play. Some of the open spaces and side buildings are often used, especially in the morning, for choir performances, ethnic dances and other festive events.

In the following travelogues, you will get to know some of the famous sights such as the Forbidden City, the Summer Palace, the Great Wall of China… I am sure that this will be one of the most interesting adventures that you have had the opportunity to see so far on the Mr.M blog and will not leave you indifferent. .

My dear adventurers, we have come to the end of this fourth special travelogue in the series of travelogues about distant China where we had the opportunity to enjoy the beauty of this unusual country in the heart of East Asia. Today’s travelogue would not be possible without the selfless help of the Ministry of Tourism of the People’s Republic of China – Visit China, the world airline company Turkish Airlines and The Peninsula Beijing Hotel in collaboration with local partners who allowed me to feel the spirit and beauty of ancient Chinese culture and tradition. Of course, as always, I tried my best to convey to you my impressions about this unusual experience from China with Turkish Airlines.

A person is rich in soul if he has managed to explore the world and I am glad that I always manage to find partners of my projects who help me to discover new and unusual destinations in a completely different way.

I am honored to have the opportunity to cooperate with companies that are the very top of the tourism industry and I would like to thank Turkish Airlines once again for this amazing adventure and for allowing me to experience the beauty of this unusual Far Eastern culture in a completely different way.

How did you like my story about China and the presentation of the The Temple of Heaven, which adorns the heart of this unusual capital of this interesting country in East Asia? Have you had a chance to visit China so far?

If you have any question, comment, suggestion or message for me you can write me below in the comments. Of course, as always, you can contact me via email or social networks, all addresses can be found on the CONTACT page. See you at the same place in a few days, with some new story!

In the following stories from China, we will discover some other interesting sights that you should visit if your journey leads you to this capital of this ancient faraway country!

With Love from Beijing,

Mr.M

This post is sponsored by world airline Turkish Airlines, Visit China and The Peninsula Beijing Hotel as well as other local partners. This post is my personal and honest review of the destination experience.

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Letters from China: Tiananmen Square, let’s explore the Gate of Heavenly Peace together

My dear travelers and fans of unusual trips, welcome to the new series of long-awaited travelogues from China on the Mr.M blog. The month of May will be dedicated to one of the cradles of human civilization and a country with thousands of years of written history – China. At the very beginning of today’s travelogue, I would like to thank the Ministry of Tourism of the People’s Republic of China – Visit China and the leading Turkish airline Turkish Airlines for the kind invitation and hospitality. With their help, the travelogues and fashion stories that you will have the opportunity to read this May were created and I sincerely hope that you will enjoy them.

If by any chance you missed reading the previous travelogues or want to remind yourself of some interesting things, take the opportunity to visit the following links:

  1. Letters from China: Explore the Peal of the Far East with Turkish Airlines
  2. Letters from China: The Peninsula Beijing, explore the first luxury hotel in the heart of Beijing

Today we will explore together the landmark that forms the heart of the Chinese capital and where numerous historical events took place that changed the history of this unusual Far East country in the heart of East Asia.

Tiananmen Square or Tian’anmen Square is a city square in the center of the city, named after the eponymous Tiananmen (“Gate of Heavenly Peace”), which is located in the north of this square and separates the square from the Forbidden City. The square houses the Monument to the People’s Heroes, the Great Hall of the People, the National Museum of China and the Mausoleum of Mao Zedong. Mao Zedong proclaimed the founding of the People’s Republic of China on the square on October 1, 1949, where the anniversary of this event is traditionally celebrated to this day. Tiananmen Square is the largest square in the world because with its area of over 200,000 square meters, it is bigger than Red Square in Moscow.

Tiananmen (“Gate of Heavenly Peace”) is a gate in the wall of the Imperial City, built in 1417 during the Ming Dynasty. In the 17th century, fighting between Li Zicheng’s rebel forces and the Manchu-led forces of the Qing Dynasty caused extensive damage or even destroyed the gate. Tiananmen Square was designed and built in 1651, and was enlarged four times in the mid-20th century. The gate historically known as the “Great Ming Gate”, the southern gate of the Imperial City is located near the center of the square. During the Qing Dynasty, it was renamed the “Great Gate of the Qing”, and during the Republican era, it was renamed the “Gate of China”. Unlike other gates in Beijing, such as Tiananmen and Zhengyang Gate, this was a purely ceremonial gate, with three arches but no ramparts, similar in style to ceremonial gates found in Ming tombs.

This gate had a special status as the “Gate of the Nation”, which is evident from its successive names. It usually remained closed, except when the emperor was passing by. Traffic was diverted to the side gates at the west and east ends of the square. Because of this traffic diversion, a busy market, called “Chess Grid Streets” was developed in the large walled square south of this gate.

Iconic image of Tiananmen Square from the May Fourth Movement 1919 In 1860, during the Second Opium War, when British and French troops occupied Beijing, they set up camp near the gate and briefly considered burning down the gate and the Forbidden City. In the end, they decided to spare the Forbidden City and set fire to the Old Summer Palace instead. The Xianfeng Emperor eventually agreed to let Western powers barrack – and later establish diplomatic missions – in the area, so there was an embassy quarter immediately east of the square. When forces of the Eight-Nation Alliance besieged Beijing during the Boxer Rebellion in 1900, they badly damaged office complexes and burned down several ministries. After the Boxer Rebellion ended, the area became a staging area for the Eight Nations Alliance to assemble their military forces.

In 1954, the gate of China was demolished, which made it possible to expand the square. In November 1958, a major expansion of Tiananmen Square began, which was completed after only 11 months, in August 1959. This followed Mao Zedong’s vision to make the square the largest and most spectacular in the world, with the intention of accommodating over 500,000 people. In that process, a large number of residential buildings and other buildings were demolished. A monument to national heroes was erected on its southern edge.

At the same time, as part of the Ten Great Buildings built between 1958 and 1959 to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the People’s Republic of China, the Great Hall of the People and the Revolutionary History Museum (now the National Museum of China) were erected on the west and east sides of the square.

During the first decade of the People’s Republic of China, every National Day (October 1) was marked by a large military parade in Tiananmen Square, in conscious imitation of the annual Soviet celebrations of the Bolshevik Revolution. After the disaster of the Great Leap Forward, the CCP decided to cut costs and have only smaller annual National Day celebrations in addition to a big celebration with a military parade every 10 years.

However, the chaos of the Cultural Revolution almost prevented such an event from being held on National Day in 1969, which it did (parades were held in 1966 and 1970). Ten years later, in 1979, the CCP again decided against the grand celebration, which came at a time when Deng Xiaoping was still consolidating power and China had suffered a setback in a border war with Vietnam earlier in the year.

By 1984, when the situation had significantly improved and stabilized, the PRC held a military parade for the first time since 1959. After the Tiananmen Square massacre, any such activities were prevented in October 1989, but military parades were held in 1999 and 2009 to mark the 50th and 60th anniversaries of the founding of the People’s Republic of China. On May 8, 2015, a military parade was held to celebrate 70 years since the end of World War II.

Who is Mao Zedong? Mao Zedong, also known as Chairman Mao, was a Chinese communist revolutionary who was the founder of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), which he led as the chairman of the Chinese Communist Party from the establishment of the PRC in 1949 until his death in 1976. Ideologically a Marxist-Leninist, his theories, military strategies and political policies are collectively known as Maoism.

On October 1, 1949, Mr. Zedong proclaimed the establishment of the People’s Republic of China from the Gate of Heavenly Peace (Tiananmen), and later that week he declared, “The Chinese people have risen up.” Mao went to Moscow for long talks in the winter of 1949-50. Mao initiated talks that focused on China’s political and economic revolution, foreign policy, railroads, naval bases, and Soviet economic and technical assistance.

In the 1970s, more precisely in 1971, large portraits of Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, Vladimir Lenin, Joseph Stalin, Sun Yat-sen and Mao Zedong were placed on the square, painted by the artist Ge Xiaoguang, who is also responsible for creating the famous Mao portrait that is located at the Gate of Heavenly Peace. In 1980, with the degradation of political ideology after Mao’s death, the portraits were taken down and have since been published only on Labor Day (May 1) and National Day. Later, in 1988, the CCP leadership decided to display only portraits of Sun and Mao on national holidays. A year after Mao’s death, a mausoleum was built near the site of the former Chinese Gate along the main axis of the north-south square. In connection with this project, the square was further enlarged to become completely rectangular and able to accommodate 600,000 people. The urban context of the square was changed in the 1990s by the construction of the Great National Theater in its vicinity and the expansion of the National Museum.

Tiananmen Square, used as a place for mass gatherings since its inception, its flatness contrasts with the 38-meter-tall “Monument to the People’s Heroes” and the “Mao Zedong Mausoleum.” The square is located in between. two ancient, massive gates: Tiananmen in the north and Zhengyangmen (better known as Qianmen) in the south. Along the western side of the square is the Great House of the People. On the east side is the National Museum of China (dedicated to Chinese history before 1919). Installed in 1989, the Statue of Liberty, a Western icon, holds its torch above the square. Chang’an Avenue, used for parades, is located between Tian’anmen and the square. Trees line the eastern and western edges of the square, but the square itself is open, without trees or benches. The square is illuminated by large lampposts equipped with video cameras. Uniformed and plainclothes policemen can always be found on the square.

When you pass through the Gate of Heavenly Peace, you enter the imperial palace complex, which is called the Forbidden City by one name. It is surrounded by a number of lavish imperial gardens and temples, including Zhongshan Park, the Imperial Ancestral Sacrifice Temple, Beihai Park and Jingshan Park. This complex is officially managed by the Palace Museum. The Forbidden City was built between 1406 and 1420 and was the former Chinese Imperial Palace and the winter residence of the Emperor of China from the Ming Dynasty to the end of the Qing Dynasty, between 1420 and 1924. The city served as the home of Chinese emperors and their households and was the ceremonial and political center of the Chinese government for more than 500 years. Since 1925, the Forbidden City has been under the supervision of the Palace Museum, whose extensive collection of artworks and artifacts was built on the basis of the imperial collections of the Ming and Qing dynasties. The Forbidden City was declared a world heritage site in 1987.

The complex consists of 980 buildings, which include 9,999 rooms and cover an area of 720,000 square meters. The palace exemplifies the opulence of Chinese imperial residences and traditional Chinese court architecture, and has influenced cultural and architectural development in East Asia and the region. The Forbidden City is included in the UNESCO list as the largest collection of preserved ancient wooden structures in the world. Since 2012, the Forbidden City has seen an average of 14 million visitors a year, and according to some official figures, more than 19 million visitors in 2019 before the pandemic.

During 2018, an interesting research was done and the market value of the Forbidden City was determined, where it was estimated at 70 billion US dollars, which makes it both the most valuable palace in the world and the most valuable real estate in the world. The Forbidden City in Beijing is one of the largest and best-preserved wooden buildings in the world. It was listed as the first group of national key cultural relics in 1961.

The Forbidden City is in the shape of a rectangle, with approximate dimensions of 961 meters from north to south and 753 meters from east to west. It consists of 980 preserved buildings with 8,886 rooms. The layout of the Forbidden City activated and protected the Imperial Code of Ethics as a physical installation. The courtyard is built on a massive, luxurious scale, but has the appearance of an ordinary quadrangular courtyard. A common myth states that there are 9999 rooms including the anteroom, based on oral tradition and not supported by research evidence. The Forbidden City was designed to be the center of the ancient walled city of Beijing. It is enclosed in a larger, walled area called the Imperial City. The Imperial City, in turn, is surrounded by the Inner City; south of it lies the Outer City.

In the following travelogues, you will get to know some of the famous sights such as the Temple of Heaven, the Forbidden City, the Summer Palace, the Great Wall of China… I am sure that this will be one of the most interesting adventures that you have had the opportunity to see so far on the Mr.M blog and will not leave you indifferent. .

My dear adventurers, we have come to the end of this third special travelogue in the series of travelogues about distant China where we had the opportunity to enjoy the beauty of this unusual country in the heart of East Asia. Today’s travelogue would not be possible without the selfless help of the Ministry of Tourism of the People’s Republic of China – Visit China, the world airline company Turkish Airlines and The Peninsula Beijing Hotel in collaboration with local partners who allowed me to feel the spirit and beauty of ancient Chinese culture and tradition. Of course, as always, I tried my best to convey to you my impressions about this unusual experience from China with Turkish Airlines.

A person is rich in soul if he has managed to explore the world and I am glad that I always manage to find partners of my projects who help me to discover new and unusual destinations in a completely different way.

I am honored to have the opportunity to cooperate with companies that are the very top of the tourism industry and I would like to thank Turkish Airlines once again for this amazing adventure and for allowing me to experience the beauty of this unusual Far Eastern culture in a completely different way.

How did you like my story about China and the presentation of the Tiananmen Square, which adorns the heart of this unusual capital of this interesting country in East Asia? Have you had a chance to visit China so far?

If you have any question, comment, suggestion or message for me you can write me below in the comments. Of course, as always, you can contact me via email or social networks, all addresses can be found on the CONTACT page. See you at the same place in a few days, with some new story!

In the following stories from China, we will discover some other interesting sights that you should visit if your journey leads you to this capital of this ancient faraway country!

With Love from Beijing,

Mr.M

This post is sponsored by world airline Turkish Airlines, Visit China and The Peninsula Beijing Hotel as well as other local partners. This post is my personal and honest review of the destination experience.

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