History free essay : Temple of Heaven, Beijing
Temple of Heaven, Beijing
The Great Chinese Empires withheld the Chinese traditional culture and architecture in their governance of the people, just as in nearly all of other Chinese traditions, the people’s way of life into their politics. The Chinese political elite represented by emperors newly constructed the Temple of Heaven in 1420 to provide a place where sacrifices would be made to the God of Heaven. According to ancient Chinese politics, the political leadership such as the famous Ming and Qing empires observed the sociocultural practices of the people into their style of leadership, which constitutes religion. As expected, the construction of the Temple of Heaven offered the leadership a religious opportunity to connect with the people and sustain the tradition of a rich cultural endowment. Apparently, the other sectors of Chinese practices and traditions such as music and art carry a lot of Chinese cultural heritage, which explains the motivation behind the political decision by the ancient ruling dynasties to construct the temple, as opposed to religious authorities (Beijing Xindong para.1).
Besides the connection between religion and dynastic politics to illustrate the involvement of Chinese traditions, the reflection of the Chinese tradition in the Temple takes the form art and architectural design. A classical design of typical Chinese architectural heritage remains on the Temple to date, illustrating the resilience of the Chinese peoples’ culture, which is perhaps under the most intense pressure from overseas and western cultures. As discussed below, the interaction of foreign cultural ideas into the country has dramatically changed the Chinese way of life, with a more westernized influence cutting across sociocultural foundations of the country such as religion and art.
Political/Religious Influence until Current Transition
Ancient Chinese imperial politics had an emperor with religious appreciation, which attracted the title “Son of Heaven”. As the intermediary figure between the people and the heavens, the emperor had duties such as performing sacrifices on behalf of the people. The construction of the temple was to enable the emperor to perform sacrifices, particularly on the prayer needs for good harvests. High-level rituals took place in the Temple, with little access being granted to commoners. Tian Tan section of the Temple was for making rituals with prayer intentions of good governance whereas the Hall of Prayer held rituals for a good harvest. The Throne of Heaven had a Round Alter on which animal sacrifices were offered (Phuntsog 79).
Emperors continued offering sacrifices on winter solstices undisturbed, until 1889 when the Temple was struck by lighting and the forbidden access tradition continued. In 1912, the gates to the Temple opened for the public on first Chinese National Day as a republic. General Yuang Shikai attempt to proclaim his rule as an empire failed and his death in 1914 stopped further attempts to perform sacrifices to date. It has remained a museum with international accolades under United Nations World Heritage recognition. The protection of the site as a religious and political icon in Chinese civilization and currently as a World Heritage Site explain why the building offers significant historical account of Chinese architectural and sociocultural as well as political heritage (Barret para.15).
Influence of Ancient Chinese Culture on Architectural Design
From the typical features of traditional Chinese architecture, the Temple of Heaven consists of distinct parts showing a podium, a clear body, which is in turn distinct from the pitched roof. Alternatively, a characteristic symmetrical design witnessed in Chinese designs conspicuously appears in the conical projection of the Temple of Heaven. A conspicuous detail of material usage and other design influence witnessed across China in terms of wood use and Cuan Jian touch on pitched roof for the Qinian Dian with the iconic triple conical (Rui 11). These features therefore underscore the deliberate motivation to integrate the mainstream Chinese architectural approach, which highly represents the period in history when the design was set up. Perhaps if constructed today, the weathering Chinese cultural influence on architecture would not withstand western influence on such a design as China attempts to accommodate the global citizenry on its space.
The site of construction as chosen by the Emperors further explains the link between the religious functions and politics to the governance of the people of the day. Construction at the Forbidden City’s space with an allocation of over 273 hectares of land illustrates the magnitude of the responsibility of the temple as a sociocultural icon in Chinese civilization (Beijing Xindong para.1). According to its large size, the Temple of Heaven ranks among the largest world monuments of ancient sacrificial practices in which civilization participated. For this reason, Temple of Heaven has been identified a World Heritage Site, due to its importance to the rich history of China. The space distribution to various important segments of the design observed Confucian ethics of order and authority, where design reflects clear demarcation of relationships for the visitors.
Distinct stage elevation and a lower front courtyard for different authority categories take care of the influence of architectural social detail in architectural design. Main building is elevated on a white marble surface that has three distinct tiers. In terms of the sociocultural elevation on a white marble could perhaps reflect religious purity and sanctity of the Temple as the appropriate choice of specific location. Details of the roof support show 12 pillars around two concentric rings to the top, which had Chinese interpretation and representation of the twelve months of the year whereas the inner ring’s pillars symbolized 12 hours of the day. (Interpretation of the pillars on both rings is attributed to the Chinese divisions of the length of the day into 12 units as opposed to 24 hours) (Rui 9). Other detail of the projection is four columns, which had cultural importance of the main seasons of the year. The height of the Temple of Heaven (about 38 meters) when compared with the other ancient buildings in the Forbidden City (next in height is Hall of Supreme Harmony at 28 meters) show hierarchical order in cultural importance for the buildings (Li and Yeo 113). Projection into the skies above every other building shows that the position of religion in the Chinese Civilization was as high as could possibly be conceptualized, considering that, the material and technology advancement then posed a threat to such construction. It is perhaps a reflection of the central role of religion to Chinese ancient civilization, which illustrates that the diverse influence that it must have borne on political leadership.
Impact of Changes in Technology on the Temple of Heaven
Chinese construction industry has embraced technology as manifested in advancement in engineering information in the country and around the world (SAS 3). Architecture and design in Chinese projects has experienced dramatic changes to integrate realities of modern challenges. As enumerated on the influence of Western education and culture, China continues to employ more economically feasible designs at the expense of cultural and traditional touch as well as detail to its structures. The modern era in China as backed by a dramatic shift on different cultural manifestations affects embrace of internationally preferred designs. Realization of national identity as a different idea from cultural issues such as architecture continues to inspire Chinese engineers to participate in a shift in the applicable technology in construction. Materials used in construction in the ancient era for instance are not fashionable in the technology that the new era dictates (Gellner,para.3).
Modernized education systems have enabled professional architects to transform the school of thought of protection of national values in architecture. Initially, it was not possible to make entirely different designs for the new era, with designs reminiscent of traditional and modernized look eventually phasing out the traditional designs. For instance, despite the shift from the construction of the body by way of adopting different material and design would be used alongside the pitched roofing design to create a composite new look (Rui 25). It was however not possible to retain the design integrating both architectural origins at all cases due to various challenges of such integration, as traditional design proves to be complicated. In a highly commercialized industry, architecture continues to find it important to realize demands of the market in terms of realizing tangible objectives as opposed to observing traditions that cannot compete with a dynamic industry.
However, traditional architectural design is still important even in purely different architectural paradigms. For instance, fittings and finishing details such as in completion of windows may take various traditional shapes, even in modern looking high-rise buildings. Using traditional design to produce architectural products housing complicated systems such as elevators and complex electric systems may not accommodate traditional designs such as intensive use of timber. Interior and exterior décor details can remain purely Chinese culture inspired due to the ease with which that such finishing makes the overall project to appear compatible with localized architectural language (Barret para.1). As an illustration, it may not project clearly in the physical design that the building has Chinese inspiration, but the lanterns choice and wall painting as well as interior painting may take a Chinese theme closer home in the finishing aspect of the project to appreciate the overall influence of Chinese tradition. In generating the extent to which architectural technology has shifted the perception that the current Chinese generations might make, influence from ideas of other famous architects may assist in defining the change. Examples of master architects whose influence would be irresistible include Antoni Gaudi with his nature appreciation, Alvar Aalto who found culture important in design and Toyo Ito who accepted flexibility approach to frequent changes in structural design (Eeva-Liisa 17).
Impact of Foreign Culture on the Temple of Heaven
China opened its doors to the world and eventually adopted lenient policies on strict conservative influence on various art and architectural designs, as was the case with nearly every sector of its civilization. Apparently, Western forces of sociocultural and political organization slowly get entrenched into the lifestyle of Chinese at a rate that was not experienced before. Economic integration under globalization was a sweeping force across the world and Chinese resilience in the protection of national values could not facilitate withstanding the sweeping forces. Flow of foreign interest groups into China as it went out to overseas opportunities implied that the stage was set for a broadened platform for integration and cultural exchange. However, China’s property ownership is still restricted and does not favor development of the industry as it is in the Western economies (Horton para.2).
Since such cooperation and interaction, the opportunities of China in terms of growth and emergence as an active global powerhouse changed (Makley 587). Within the growing demands of modern westernized business platform, China realized that certain exclusive cultural and social traditions had to change. Such a stage elevated China as a construction powerhouse with average growth rate standing at over 20 per cent in construction industry’s Gross Output Value. Competing at the international market to attract foreign attention, construction theory had to change with a mix of postmodern, deconstruction and high-tech approaches taking root. As mentioned above, cultural interaction between the foreign influence and the traditional Chinese architecture provided a platform for the birth of the modern architecture industry in the country.
Under the intense pressure of change from Western design and construction, ancient designs remain as isolated few icons of the former era. Changed lifestyle and sociocultural practices in the country as more Chinese embrace western culture threaten not only architectural heritage but also other Chinese values. Unique role of architecture in expression of ancient civilization has been noted such as by the inclusion of the Temple of Heaven on the list of World Heritage Sites. Rising construction projects embracing the more efficient and complicated technologies appreciate the commercial concept of modern Chinese society than ever before. Protection of the Temple of Heaven as a museum is the best that the authorities can do to avoid its redesign to fit the modern construction preferences. The ever-increasing need for construction for various structures in the future may wipe out Chinese designs that required a different setting of materials and technology that will eventually lose meaning in the modern era.
Changing Government and Political Influence on the Temple of Heaven
The intense pressure of construction design from foreign culture in China will be stronger in the future as the role of political class falls out of the cultural or religious duties as witnessed during the dynastic era. Such a high level of integration of political class into religious roles as the emperors in the ancient ages will increasingly diminish from the contemporary setting. Death of political influence in the erection of such traditionally inspired changes the role of politics in influencing cultural conservation. As witnessed during the emperor rule in China, protection of the values of the Chinese culture was a sacred duty of the emperor. The diminishing role of religious cum political leaders influences the perception of the Temple by the Chinese and visitors in to the country. Government based on democratic model where people elect their leaders around the world will influence the model of Chinese politics for a homogeneous global platform (Glancey para.2).
Separation of powers between the national government and other social elements such as religion implies that the significance of national government parties in matters of cultural and religious heritage will equally diminish. The lack of influence from political leaders on such national heritage icons will therefore make the Temple of Heaven a distant memory than it was previously. The stature of Chinese cultural presence on the global level continue to be diluted by the fact that political attention is now concentrated on other issues outside direct cultural integrity (Huber 365). Whereas the emperor represented a unification factor in terms of centralized cultural activities such as religion and political leadership, modern day politicians without a centralized office obscure effective protection of mainstream culture. Recognition of such iconic monuments by the UN however shows that the willingness of the international community to respect past cultures and civilizations may make it possible for retention of remnant reminders of the rich past.
Role of Commercial Industry and Real Estate
Commercial interest of the global community places pressure on China to compete in development of projects reacting to international demands. As illustrated above, technological advancements in business and home building usage continue to change as supporting technologies change. In the modern China with a westernized culture, embracing hi-tech solutions to the markets shows the cultural shift that China is experiencing (Glancey para.1). A huge shift from the traditional economic principles built around communism towards a more liberal economic platform has led to competition for profits in the industry where little attention is likely to be paid by private investment on cultural value. As long as the market continues to show hunger for western culture inspiration, the private sector in china will continue to show biasness to a western form of culture in architectural design.
Within the larger consideration of general national values in consumption, the majority of Chinese prefers Western tastes. For instance, Chinese music and traditional art continue to diminish against a backdrop of western influenced package of rock music and sports such as basketball. The shift in commercial orientation in China makes traditional design and ancient civilization reserved and destined for the museums. What used to be a Chinese way of life increasingly become domestic tourist attraction objects as seen in the Temple of Heaven, whose history fast recedes to antiquity narration. This is backed by the observation that the current generations in China cannot attest to the active use of the Temple during their lifetime. Perhaps commercialization of the tourist attraction site will make the Temple a significant structure from influential tourism marketing objective, but this may never attain the popularity that the political class during the ancient empires managed to maintain.
Overall Shifting Image of the Temple of Heaven (technology, secularism, culture)
Within the overall changing times of ancient architectural heritage, China faces challenges of retaining its culturally rich designs due to massive foreign pressure. As illustrated above, technology, changes in political setting and commercialization of architecture prove to be forces too strong for the previously notoriously resilient culture (Rui 3). Despite these changes and pressures, China still boasts one of the most iconic sociocultural beauties of human civilization of all times. As witnessed in the Temple of Heaven, a mixture of rich political and religious influences on the design of the iconic structure reflects how strong the culture could still stand. Within a more secular setting as borrowed from Western civilization, religious roles of the Temple will continue to lose meaning (Heilpern para.8). A completely changed political setting where political leaders no longer partake in such direct sociocultural influences as emperors did expose the Temple of Heaven and similar monuments to recession into museum statuses. Influential technological and commercial revolutions around the world pose threats to Chinese status as a resilient cultural powerhouse, which does not spare the Temple of Heaven.
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