Author: angela627

[Beijing] Temple of Heaven   [Copy link] 中文

Rank: 4

Post time 2013-2-13 19:52:03 |Display all floors
Were nine ancestral spirit tablets commonly used in ancient emperor’s Temple?

After Emperor Guangxu 光绪皇帝) rebuilt the Altar (Hall) of Prayer for Good Harvests (祈年殿 Qi Nian Dian) in 1890, he installed nine (9) ancestral spirit tablets in his altar hall 殿 (diàn) in the Tiantan/Temple of Heaven.

When Emperor Guangxu 光绪皇帝) installed 9 ancestral tablets consisting one main ancestral godly memorial tablet 祖仙神位 [or first ancestor] of Huangtian Shangdi 皇天上帝 and the selected eight former emperors godly memorial tablets 先帝神位, does he adhered to the ancient emperor’s guideline?

Probably he may then again he may not. Generally Qing emperors adopted Ming's Sacrificial rites.

In Edward Harper Parker’s “Ancient China Simplified” ( ) on Chapter XII - Ancestral Worship states:

“Ancestral halls varied according to rank, the Emperor alone having seven shrines; vassal rulers five; and first-class ministers three; courtiers or second-class ministers had only two; that is to say, no one beyond the living subject’s grandfather was in these last cases worshipped at all. From this we may assume that the ordinary folk could not pretend to any shrine, unless perhaps the house- altar [commoner has one main ancestral godly memorial tablet 祖仙神位], which one may see still any day in the streets of Canton [and any foreign countries where they live] …

The [emperor’s] shrines were disposed in the following fashion:–To the left (on entrance) was the shrine of the living subject’s father; to the right his grandfather; above these two, to the left and right again, the great-grandfather and great-great- grandfather; opposite, in the centre, was that of the founder [祖仙 the first ancestor representing the Ancestral forefathers], whose tablet or effigy was never moved …

The King of Ts’u who died in 560 B.C. said on his death-bed: “I now take my place in the ancestral temple to receive sacrifices in the spring and autumn of each year.” In the year 597, after a great victory over Tsin, the King of Ts’u had been advised to build a trophy over the collected corpses of the enemy; but, being apparently rather a high-minded man, after a little reflection, he said: “No! I will simply erect there a temple to my ancestors, thanking them for the success.” …

After the death in 210 B.C. of the First August Emperor, a discussion arose as to what honours should be paid to his temple shrine: it was explained that “for a thousand years without any change the rule has been seven shrines for the Son of Heaven [天子  (tiān zǐ) emperor] … Unquote

Hence, we can assume the ancient ethnic Han kings and emperors each had 7 ancestors’ shrines in his palace hall 殿 (diàn).

But did the Ming’s emperors have initially 7 shrines in his palace hall/s, it’s hard to say. Why? From Emperor Hóngwǔ 洪武 (Chu Yuan-chang 朱元璋 1368-98) to Emperor Jiājìng 嘉靖 (Zhū Hòucōng 朱厚熜 1521–1567), imperial ancestor worship went through a chaotic reform. At the end, the Ming emperor installed nine (9) ancestral tablets in his altar hall 殿 (diàn).

Then there was the question of what spirit tablet should be installed as the founder (representing the ancestral forefathers) on the main throne facing south for the sacrifice of “di” or “Shangdi”. This sacrifice had been offered in antiquity to the ultimate progenitor of the emperor, The first Ming emperor, Chu Yuan-chang 朱元璋, rejected the idea because there was no way he could identify this personage, hence, an empty or nameless spirit throne was used for Ming first ancestor. It was Emperor Jiājìng 嘉靖 in 1531 suggested the idea of Zhuan Xu 顓頊 (one of the emperors in the Three Sovereigns and Five Emperors 三皇五帝 San Huang Wu Di) as the ultimate ancestor of Chu 朱 surname. Zhuan Xu 顓頊 was then installed to the empty or nameless spirit throne to seat as the first ancestor despite of great opposition. At last, the spirit tablet of the namely ancestor had adopted Zhuan Xu 顓頊 as Ming’s “Shangdi” facing south during the sacrificial rites for the first time over 160 years since Emperor Hóngwǔ 洪武 founded the Ming dynasty.

When Ming was sacked by Qing, there is no way the Qing emperor can find a suitable Chinese “god” to represent Qing’s founder for their Ancestral Temple as they are Manchurians. In my view, they adopted a more general title of Huangtian Shangdi 皇天上帝 as his ancestral founder. Huangtian Shangdi 皇天上帝 literally means Shangdi of the Sovereign Heaven.

Use magic tools Report

Rank: 4

Post time 2013-3-2 18:04:48 |Display all floors
Could the Chinese worship Huangtian Shangdi apart from Emperor & family?

Only the emperor and family could worship Huangtian Shangdi. But, two other popular Gods called Shangdi that the Chinese people can worship are the Pure August Jade Emperor (玉皇上帝 Yù huáng Shangdi or 玉皇大帝 Yù huáng Dà dì) sometimes referred by westerner as “Lord of Heaven” and Yuan Tian Shangdi (玄天上帝) also known as Northern Emperor (北帝).

If the Chinese people worshipped Huangtian Shangdi 皇天上帝 or Shangdi 上帝 during imperial times, the penalty was death.

Refer to Edward T.C. Werner in Chapter IV of Myths and Legend of China on:

“Worship of Shang Ti

"… Shang Ti [上帝] was worshipped by the emperor and his family as their ancestor, or the head of the hierarchy of their ancestors. The people could not worship Shang Ti [上帝], for to do so would imply a familiarity or a claim of relationship punishable with death. The emperor worshipped his ancestors, the officials theirs, the people theirs. But, in the same way and sense that the people worshipped the emperor on earth, as the ‘father’ of the nation, namely, by adoration and p. 95 obeisance, so also could they in this way and this sense worship Shang Ti. An Englishman may take off his hat as the king passes in the street to his coronation without taking any part in the official service in Westminster Abbey. So the ‘worship’ of Shang Ti by the people was not done officially or with any special ceremonial or on fixed State occasions, as in the case of the worship of Shang Ti [上帝] by the emperor [皇帝] . This, subject to a qualification to be mentioned later, is really all that is meant when it is said that the Chinese worship Shang Ti [上帝].  

As regards sacrifices to Shang Ti, these could be offered officially only by the emperor, as High Priest on earth, who was attended or assisted in the ceremonies by members of his own family or clan or the proper State officials (often, even in comparatively modern times, members of the imperial family or clan). In these official sacrifices, which formed part of the State worship, the people could not take part; nor did they at first offer sacrifices to Shang Ti in their own homes or elsewhere”… Unquote

It shall be noted that Tiantan (Temple of Heaven in Beijing) was regarded as Emperor’s ancestral worship sanctuary and therefore forbidden to the public since construction. It was until Tiantan turned into a Park in 1918 that the Tiantan or Temple of Heaven Park was finally opened to the public.

Use magic tools Report

Rank: 4

Post time 2013-3-18 13:48:57 |Display all floors
The Great Rites Controversy in 1524 resulted with the redesign of Tiantan (Temple of Heaven)

When Zhu Di 明成祖朱棣 (also known as Emperor Yongle 永樂帝) built Tiantan 天壇 (Temple of Heaven), the Great Hall for Sacrificial Rituals 大祀殿 (dà sì diàn) with a square plan was based on the Nanjing’s Ancestral Temple design and was completed in 1421.

Then Emperor JiaJing 嘉靖皇帝 ascended the throne after his cousin Emperor Zhengde passed away. At the time of Emperor Zhengde, the great sacrifices of ancestral worship reforms were ongoing. Before his death, Emperor Zhengde disrupted the great sacrifices by withholding his cooperation. His successor, the Emperor JiaJing, also disrupted them by reforming the sacrifices, known as the Great Rites Controversy 大禮議 in 1524, despite of his high officials’ vigorous opposition. The main cause of the furious conflict was, although his late father had never occupied the throne, Emperor JiaJing insisted that his father be treated posthumously as though he had. Against this pious fraud, the grand secretary, Yang Tinghe 楊廷和, argued for a legal fiction by which the young emperor would hold the throne as the younger brother of his first cousin, the late Emperor Zhengde, and as the son of his uncle Emperor Hung-chih. The power struggle between a young emperor and his court since Emperor JiaJing’s enthronement in 1522, and continued until 1538, by which time most of his opponents either died or been driven off office including Yang Tinghe 楊廷和 eventually was forced to retire. In the end, the pious fraud largely prevailed over the legal fiction.

Although the emperor had gained much of what he had set out to achieve for his father, there were still many objectives that eluded him. One of these was to make his father the companion or associate of Heaven in the great or state sacrifices. If he used only one companion or associate for each principal spirit, he would have had to displace the dynastic founder from that role, or he would have had to institute two distinct sacrifices to the Lord of Heaven (玉皇上帝 Yù huáng Shangdi or 玉皇大帝 Yù huáng Dà di) with the dynastic founder as associate in one, and his own father in the other. Alternatively this could be accomplished by reviving the separated sacrifices while retaining the hall form of worship. He discovered a passage in the Xiaojing 孝經 (Classic of filial piety) that implied that the Zhou had had a Hall of Spirit (明堂 ming-tang) sacrifice to the Lord -on-high (上帝 Shangdi) as well as an open-altar sacrifice (開壇祭 kāi tán jì) to Heaven (天 as for Lord of Heaven, 玉皇大帝 Yù huáng Dà di), a model perfectly suited to his needs.

As the opposition continued, the emperor handed a copy of Xia Yan’s (夏言) special memorial down to the Ministry of Rites 禮部 for discussion of sacrifices (祭 ji). When the emperor received Zhang Fu-jing’s (張孚敬) report, he further sent it to the Ministry of Rites with further advice on how to arrive at a correct conclusion. The intrepid grand supervisor of instruction, Huo Tao (霍韜), disagreed with the report, saying that the separated rite was only to be found in the Rites of Zhou which was considered a forgery of Wang Mang (王莽) and was not to be relied upon. Xia Yan (夏言) then accused Huo Tao (霍韜) with secret factional conflicts, and the emperor seizing the opportunity of the accusation, threw Huo Tao into prison.  

The report was put in a poll at the Ministry of Rites. There were 192 (some with conditions attached) in favor to 206 against with 196 abstained. Despite a majority of 206 to 192 against the reform, the Ministry of Rites endorsed the revival of the separated rites. In order to reduce the cost of the reform, the Ministry suggested that the existing Hall for the Great Sacrifice (大祀殿) built by Emperor Yongle should remain for the sacrifice to the Lord-on-high (上帝 Shangdi).

The emperor dissatisfied with the result, adopted Hsia Yen’s suggestion that the Hall for the Great Sacrifice (大祀殿) be retain for the great sacrifice (大祀 dà-si) of autumn harvest offerings to the Lord-on-high (上帝 Shangdi), and Emperor JiaJing then built the Circular Mound (Grave) Altar 圜丘壇 (Yuan Qiu Tan) for an open-altar sacrifice (開壇祭 kāi tán jì) to Heaven in 1530.

When the emperor constructed the Circular Mound (Grave) Altar 圜丘壇 (Yuan Qiu Tan) in 1530, he had a larger plan which included a revival of Hall of Light (明堂 ming-tang) but between 1530 and 1538, he had to settle for an annual prayer in the Hall for Great Sacrifice 大祀殿 (dà sì diàn). The first time the sacrifice was offered, both Emperors Hung-wu and Yongle were associates of the Lord-on-high (上帝 Shangdi). Thereafter, however, the Emperor Yongle was dropped.  

The vice-minister of revenue, Tang Zhou 唐冑, bravely opposed this on the ground that if anyone were to be the associate of the Lord-on-high (上帝 Shangdi), it should be the Emperor Yongle. In support of his position, he cited the Sung philosopher Zhu Xi’s朱熹 opinion that the honour of the associate sacrifice should be reserved for rulers who merited it. Tang Zhou 唐冑 was jailed, beaten and reduced to a commoner status, and the emperor proceeded to institute the new rite with his father as associate.

In 1531 Emperor Jiājìng 嘉靖 wanted to rebuild Great Ancestral Sacrifice Hall again in the palace form with separate temples, but his plan met with objection that the temple grounds were not large enough and that it would take too long to perform the separate offerings in each temple. At the same time, the emperor suggested the idea of Zhuan Xu 顓頊 (one of the emperors in the Three Sovereigns and Five Emperors 三皇五帝 San Huang Wu Di) as the ultimate ancestor of Zhu 朱 surname. Zhuan Xu 顓頊 was then installed to the empty or nameless spirit throne to seat as the first ancestor despite of great opposition.

In 1534, the Nanjing Ancestral Temple was destroyed by fire. Hsia Yen assured the emperor that the destruction of the original temple was a sign of Heaven’s endorsement of his plans for a palace-form temple in Beijing. In 1536, works started around the existing temple with separate temples being built into the grounds of the old compound with the Ancestral Temple 大祀殿 centred in the north of the compound, facing south. The old Hall for the Great Sacrifice (大祀殿) was demolished to make room for the new Hall in 1539.

Meanwhile, the new rite was performed in a hall in the palace until the new Great Ancestral Sacrifice Hall 大祀殿 (dà sì diàn) was completed in 1545 on the foundations of the old Hall.

Use magic tools Report

Rank: 6Rank: 6

Post time 2013-4-1 23:40:16 |Display all floors
Brings back memories of my last visit to Beijing

Use magic tools Report

You can't reply post until you log in Log in | register

Contact us:Tel: (86)010-84883548, Email:
Blog announcement:| We reserve the right, and you authorize us, to use content, including words, photos and videos, which you provide to our blog
platform, for non-profit purposes on China Daily media, comprising newspaper, website, iPad and other social media accounts.