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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.