Enjoy a little piece of heaven in Beijing without having to leave this world

Updated: Feb 22, 2023 By A. Thomas Pasek China Daily Print
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A. Thomas Pasek.[Photo provided to China Daily]

Let's return to the hero of this story — the Temple of Heaven.

I last visited before the pandemic, so I am due for a redo.

Here's a cliffs-notes history of the place. First of all, it might look familiar to first-time visitors because it's modeled after an even more ancient structure in Nanjing, Jiangsu province.

History has it that when the third emperor of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), Yongle (Zhu Di), shifted the capital from Nanjing to Beijing in 1420, the structure was built in homage to the Temple of Heaven and Earth in the East China city. Part of the reason for the migration north was that with the Ming Dynasty replacing the Mongol-dominated Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368) a few decades prior, things were a lot more stable on China's northern frontier.

What struck me most about the "new" Temple of Heaven in Beijing was its silent symmetry and dignity. It probably helped that I visited early on a weekday, but I had pretty much free rein to leisurely walk about the sprawling grounds without being jostled by crowds. Also, unlike Xiangshan (Fragrant Hills) in the city's western suburbs, which is akin to four hours on a StairMaster machine, the temple grounds are completely flat. And there are far fewer wooden hurdles before entranceways than those that grace much of both the Forbidden City and the Summer Palace, albeit I recognize these cypress slats as having historical and ceremonial significance, and perhaps are where famed hurdler Liu Xiang practiced as a boy.

Also, there are so many different routes one can take, so crowds are seldom an issue as they sometimes can be at Houhai in peak season with the single lakeside path often shared by rickshaws jostling past with dog-tired tourists.

So if you're looking for a contemplative getaway, head to Temple of Heaven for a few leisurely rounds of strolling around magnificent consistently round-friendly architecture that was up and running far before Christopher Columbus' parents even went on their first date.

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