NSLI-Y Group Visited the Temple of Heaven and Beijing Hutongs

In the morning of July 28th, weather forecast said heavy rain was coming. So the NSLIY group cancelled the morning trips. It was the day of the London Olympics’ opening ceremony. Some students got up in early morning to watch the live broadcast of the ceremony. Students were all thrilled to know that they could continue watching the show and games all morning in hotel rooms.

It was until 11:00 am that no rain was observed. They decided to go out and have more fun. The first stop was the Panjiayuan Flea Market. It is the largest flea market in China with more than three thousand shops and slots selling antiques, artifacts, furnitures, fine chinas, painting and drawings from hundreds of years ago. In Panjiayuan, usually no price tag was provided but customers can feel free to negotiate price with the sellers. It requires a keen eye to recognize good stuff from fakes and good bargaining techniques as well. Sometimes one can find the best stuff with the lowest price. Therefore Panjiayuan has always been a “must-visit” spot for local people and visitors. Students had fun wandering in the market looking for their favorites.

Students visit Panjiayuan Flea Market

After lunch, the group visited the Temple of Heaven. It is a complex visited by the Emperors of the Ming and Qing dynasties for annual ceremonies of prayer to Heaven for good harvest. The Temple grounds cover 2.73 km² (3,265 sq yd) of parkland. The Temple has more than 600 years of history. Let alone pines and cypresses, there are more than 2,500 of them aged 200 years and older. Architectures in the Temple are remarkable as they were all built according to strict philosophical requirements, including the Imperial Vault of Heaven and the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests. The Imperial Vault of Heaven is surrounded by a smooth circular wall, the Echo Wall, that can transmit sounds over large distances. Another remarkable structure is the Circular Mound Altar, an empty circular platform. The center of the altar is a round slate called the Heart of Heaven. Standing on top of the slate, the sound of the prayer will be reflected by the guardrail, creating significant resonance, which was supposed to help the prayer communicate with the Heaven. It is amazing to find that 600 years ago Chinese people had been able to use knowledge of mechanics, acoustics and geometry principle in architectural design and structure.

The Temple of Heaven

The group headed up to Hutongs in Houhai areas later afternoon. It is one of a few places in Beijing where traditional Beijing style residential buildings “Sihe Yuan” and alleyways “Hutong” are concentrated and still kept well in the middle the modern Beijing cityscape. The tour guide led the group into a “Sihe Yuan”. It is a small residence. In the center patio grapes are grown. Students listened to the hostess, an old Beijinger telling stories of her life in old and new Beijing. It just felt like an incredible culture journey to the past.

Students listened to the tour guide introduce Beijing Hutongs to them.

Students have fun riding the traditional Chinese rickshaws in Houhai.

Visit to Sihe Yuan, a traditional Beijing residence.

In the evening the group met with internationally renowned Chinese writer Bin Wang, the screenwriter of Chinese movies “Hero”, Fearless, Shanghai Triad, To Live, Ju Dou, Raise the Red Lanterns and etc. The students asked him questions in both Chinese and English in screenplay writing, discussed the differences between Chinese and American movies. The meeting lasted for about two hours and was very productive as students all felt that they learned more about Chinese culture.

Dr. Chen introduced Ms. Bin Wang (in green shirt to his right) to the students.

Picture with Mr. Bin Wang