The Temple of Heaven was one of the first places I went to Beijing. It is quite famous as many pictures from Chinese tourist companies prominently display one of the temples inside the complex, the Temple of good harvest.
My guide for that day, Mr. Brian, had been explaining to me that the center of an arch or Gateway was reserved for the Emperor to walk through. When we got to the Temple of Heaven though, he told me that the Emperor could not walk through the center gate. That gate was reserved for God.
Mr. Brian also disclosed to me that the Emperor could not wear yellow inside the Temple of Heaven. Now, if you know anything about the Chinese Emperor, do you know that yellow was reserved as the Imperial color. The Emperor usually wore yellow as a sign of his station in life. While in the Temple of Heaven he was to wear green. Yellow was reserved for God.
This was a very interesting revelation to me. Quite often in the West, we are very uneducated in the cultures of Asia. That is just the way of things as the vast majority of us are of European descent. So, the idea that a place existed where the Chinese Emperor himself would forgo one of the signs of his own power caught me off guard.
Another reason for this being such a surprise, I think, is that we have thought of the Chinese as being non-religious in recent history. This, of course, is because of the tendency of communist states to purge religion. It has to do with the whole “opium of the people” references found in communist literature.
I do have to say that I saw quite a religious outpouring among many of the Chinese. Often this shows up in the form of ancestral worship, but the new China as allowing a resurgence of religious worship. But, that is a topic for other posts.
As you enter the Beijing Temple of Heaven complex from the south, be sure to ask your guide about the center gate and the Emperor’s inability to walk through it.
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