China: Heavenly music at Beijing’s Temple of Heaven Park

At Beijing’s Temple of Heaven Park, Jim Eagles is captivated by the music and decides to stay, just for the joy of it.

For 600 years, Chinese emperors went to Temple of Heaven Park to pray and offer sacrifices for a good harvest. Today it’s where the people of Beijing go to practise their music.

I went there for a quick look at the Altar of Heaven and the attendant temple buildings. But I stayed for hours to watch the locals at play.

I’d only just got inside the North Celestial Gate when I heard music and went to investigate. In an alcove of the gate a choir was singing lustily to the accompaniment of a collection of traditional instruments. And so it continued.

On the broad pathway leading to the spectacular round Hall of Prayer for a Good Harvest dozens of groups of young people — and some not so young — were busy keeping brightly coloured shuttlecocks in the air with their feet.

In a corner beside the marble staircase leading up to the west entrance of the hall a man was playing the saxophone. He wasn’t busking, there was no hat in front of him to collect money, just playing away for the joy of it.

As I wandered around the hall, admiring the remarkable structure and the beautiful decorations, more music was wafting in on all sides. Some of it was traditional Chinese music from the loudspeakers dotted through the grounds, but most was of a different kind.

Just below the great ceremonial way, which leads from the hall to the next temple, the Imperial Vault of Heaven, young people were gathered around a young man with a great bush of black hair singing pop songs with the aid of some electronic backing music. On the other side, a bouncy young woman was doing the same, ending each song with a leap and a shriek of ecstasy, to the delight of her mostly male audience.

The special attraction of the vault is the surrounding wall, which is so perfectly built that it is said a whisper at one end will immediately travel to a friend at the other end. Even if I had someone to whisper to I doubt it would have been heard above the delighted shouts of the locals.

Further down the ceremonial way, in the direction of the giant three-tiered marble altar, there were more intriguing sounds.



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