COB Study Abroad Program China
Today we visited the Temple of Heaven in Beijing, China. It was an amazing experience to say the least. This encounter was one that truly led me to wonder what events led to such a shift from how things were in the past, to what they came to be today in places like these in China. As soon as we walked in, the scene resembled what you might see at a 4th of July celebration in some American neighborhoods on a summer day. We really saw people of all ages, genders, shapes, and sizes entertaining and enjoying themselves by partaking in a number of different recreational activities.
One activity that especially caught my attention was a game that a lot of the locals, mostly middle aged to elderly, were playing. The game is comparable to Hacky Sack. I’m not sure of the Chinese name for it so my classmates and I elected to refer to it simply as, “Chinese Hacky Sack”. It looked like a lot of fun, everyone was spread apart in a circle and from the looks of it the object of the game was to simply keep the projectile from hitting the ground, as we watched in awe of the tremendous skill level of the people who were playing, Dr. Chen suggested that we join them, initially I was reluctant to do so, just me being shy, but after Dr. Chen’s suggestion was reiterated by the participants, and it was a difficult offer to turn down. Myself along with two or three of my classmates joined the circle and proceeded to cultivate a memory that I won’t soon forget. It took us a few go rounds to get the hang of it, but after we did, it was truly a remarkable experience. This was something not many others will be able to say they took part in during their lifetime. We played for about 20 minutes and after that, it was on to explore the temple.
Lot, our group’s tour guide for Beijing, explained to us that the temple of heaven was a location where a lot of sacrificial ceremonies took place, mainly of oxen, lamb, and a few other animals. These sacrifices were for good harvest on the date of the winter solstice at the point in which the sun is level with the horizon. The animals were sacrificed at the top of a pyramid stage like figure positioned in the middle of an enclosed area in the temple. Once they had been killed, the animals were then split in half and had their organs removed and then were burned in a fireplace made out of Jade. I find the meticulous nature of the processes and the traditions of the ancient Chinese people truly something to marvel at. The same goes for the structure and positioning of the architecture of temples and other monuments. The fact that everything is so artfully crafted, along with the fact that they are accompanied with purpose and reason, brings on feelings of extreme reverence for the Chinese culture for me.
It really makes me wonder when and why all of the historical monuments we visited and learned about, and even those that we didn’t, lost their cultural significance. With all of the traditions that have remained staples in Chinese culture, why weren’t the ones that seem to have held the most significance in their respective periods able to stand the test of time? I figure that it has a lot to do with all of the constant shifts in power and political standings, with the perpetual change in those aspects being in principle as much a tradition as your actual religious practices. It would be quite difficult to find any sustainability in things as subjective as harvest practices. All in all, I greatly enjoyed my day at the temple, I learned a lot and it led me to think a lot, two of my main incentives for deciding to come on the trip. This experience has been nothing short of eye opening and has greatly influenced a shift in my perception on a lot of things, I hope to continue to build on that trend with the rest of our time left in China.