A Historical Beijing

Altar of Heaven, the 1920s

Altar of Heaven in the south of Beijing Forbidden City, built 600 years ago during the early Ming Dynasty, was a venue for the emperor in the guidance of Daoists to pay personal respect and conduct a private dialogue with higher forces above.

Chinese emperors were traditionally regarded as the representatives of the celestial authority on earth.


Eric Horrobin:

What is the chinese concept of heaven??

All Things Chinese:

Traditional Chinese concept of heavens are the realms with purer yang qi than human worlds that are filled with 50/50 yin qi and yang qi. Of course, the exact yin-yang balance in each individual and each nation during each historical period varies.

The domains below the human’s are dominated by yin qi, such as the ghost worlds, animal kingdoms and hells.

Lower domains are the shadowy reflections of the higher realms. The events on earth are the delayed replays of the occurrences in heavens, which is why it is possible to foretell coming incidents on earth by observing the movement of the sun, the moon, the planets and the constellations in the sky. Same applies to the words below that of humans.

Because of a time lapse, in the Chinese yin world – a ghostly land accommodating the deceased Chinese who are obsessed with their old way of living when alive thus unable to see other options of life through reincarnation – the beings there are all wareing ancient Chinese costume.

Josh Libenirok:

Is it true that Chinese oldest religion was base on one god worship like the Israelites God?

All Things Chinese:

No, not at all, Josh.

Native Chinese “religion” is Daoism, but I don’t think it can be considered as religion in a conventional sense as the term “religion” is commonly defined.

It does not believe there is a single almighty God that created the world, and does not worship any external entities or forces as gods.

It considers the universe was born from Nothingness when a split took place that gives rise to yin-yang dual forces which are the bases of all things in the universe and the driving forces to all occurrences in the world as the result of the yin-yang forces trying to keep balance in motion.

So it recognises that the universe is a place exquisitely structured with strict order. There are worlds above us and the world’s below, there are beings more powerful than humans and there are beings less powerful. And you have an opportunity to climb up to a better realm and face a risk to fall down to a worse domain, depending on what you do in present.

You enter a certain lane on a certain motorway with a certain speed limit at moment you came into life, not randomly but based on your previous journey, which is why a good Chinese fortune-teller can foretell your life path according to the year, the month, the day and the time of your birth.

But it is really up to you how to manoeuvre your journey. You can drive carefully and train yourself to be a better driver and when approach an intersection choose the direction consciously and wisely, then you may arrive in a better road towards a more desirable destination; or you follow the old path and repeat the previous journey; or worse, you speed, you drink-driving and engage in road rage then, alas, you found yourself involved in a car accident and have been thrown out of the road.

It’s not any god but yourself who decides your fate – that is what classic Chinese faith believes.

Of course, there are many powerful individuals and groups living in better worlds somewhere in the universe and like to recruit followers on earth to expand their influence with a promise to grant you a permanent residency in their world after your service, very much like what the US army did. ~_^

Are these promises all fake? Not necessarily. As for whether their world is your perceived heaven, that’s another story. Maybe yes, maybe not.

Some kids in the schoolyard are willing to join the gangs led by big boys. They do dirty jobs for the big guy in exchange for protection.

But some kids prefer to train themselves to be a kung fu master so one day they can live a life of their own chosen instead of being under someone else’s mercy.

So, should we become a player of the chess game or a piece on someone else’s chess board?

Beijing City Wall, the 1930s

Left side of the city wall: farmlands
Right side of the city wall: urban Beijing


Plautus Satire:

This structure could well be the reason the Chinese built a city there

All Things Chinese: 

Actually it was Emperor Yongle of Ming Dynasty decided to build a capital there then the structure of the two layers of city walls were built.

Plautus Satire:

From my recent research it seems the “outer city” walls are poor copies of the much older “inner city” structure.

All Things Chinese: 

That’s right. The inner wall was to protect the vicinity for central government buildings and facilities. Apart from the immediate royal family and the guards and the servants and the duty officials, everybody lived in the outer city within the outer wall.

Toan Nguyen:

In feudal times, the wall could protect the people from the city from the enemy.

All Things Chinese:

In fact a feudal system ended in China long before the Ming Dynasty. Ming was a united and centralised kingdom like Song, Tang, Sui, Han and Qin.

However, you are right, a wall could protect the city before the WMDs were invented.

Map of Beijing, 1937

Map of Beijing, 1937

The map was produced by Japanese military force as a preparation for a full scale invasion of China. That year on July 7, the Japanese armies stationed outside the Beijing bambarmed and broke into former Chinese capital (by then capital was moved back to Nanjing). 

In 1421, the third Ming emperor Yongle relocated the capital from Nanjing to Beijing, 19 years after he usurped the throne through military campaigns.

His usurpation encountered a fierce opposition from scholar officials, not only due to its illegitimacy but also because the second Ming emperor Jianwen was a very popular young man.

Unable to win the loyalty from a sizable number of officials, Yongle decided to return to his old bastin, along with the government.

Thus he built a new Forbidden City, a new Temple of Heaven, a new capital city and a new city wall in Beijing, based on original design for Nanjing, which are what we see today in Chinese capital.

Culture Gate (Congwenmen), 1950

It was one of the nine gates to the Inner Beijing City and located in the east of the inner city wall, facing the direction when the sun is rising and all things on earth get nourished and grow.

During the Ming era, it was the gate for the prized scholars who passed the state-level academic exam to get into the city to receive the cheers from the public and attend a lavish banquet hosted by the emperor prior to being appointed a position in government.

Opposite the Cultural Gate in the west inner city wall is Xuanwumen, Gate of Declaration of Military Action, where the troops marched out to the war.

Sunny Gate (Chaoyangmen), 1955

It was one of the nine gates to Inner Beijing City and located in the east of the inner city wall. During the Ming era, it was the gate for food to be transported into the city.

West Gate (Xizhimen), 1951

It was one of the nine gates to inner Beijing City and located in the west of the inner city wall. During the Ming era, it was the gate for fresh water to be transported in on daily bases.

Opposite the West Gate in the east inner city wall is Dozhimeng, East Gate, from where firewoods were brought into the city.


Serhiy Dovbnya:

Is that the Closed City?

All Things Chinese:

All traditional Chinese cities were enclosed with city walls and closed at night.
The most city walls were demolished in the 20th century, including Beijing city wall.

You are most welcome to leave your comments below