After visiting the Temples of the Moon, Sun and Earth, it was finally time to honor the Temple of Heaven.
The Temple of Heaven (天坛; Tiāntán) is a large complex of religious buildings situated in what is now central Beijing. Both Ming and Qing emperors performed annual ceremonies there to ensure a bountiful harvest and the correct order of the universe. The imperial worship of Heaven, the Sun, Moon and Earth predates religious Taoism, according to Wikipedia, and was a central function of the emperor.
What I found surprising was the amount of open space… we walked for a half hour among rows of planted trees and didn’t see a single other person! We also found within the temple walls a group of local Beijing Opera musicians practicing their jinghus (literally “opera fiddle”) and Yueqin (Moon Zither). A couple of people were singing along with a few of the jinghu players. It was not an organized practice, and it sounded like everyone was praciticing something different, but they were all within yards of each other. Cacophony was the word that popped into my mind to describe the scene.
Bill managed to gesture to a jinghu player and get him to let me try the instrument. I had played an erhu (or 2-stringed fiddle, which is larger than the opera fiddle) back in 1983 when I studied in China, but hadn’t really touched one since…. I was quite a bit rusty, but managed to get a passable sound out of it, much to the amusement of all the other musicians in the gathering.