Temple of Heaven Legends


The Temple of Heaven legends is a representative project in the national-level intangible cultural heritage list of China, under the category of folk literature. It refers to the folk legends that have been passed down in Beijing, particularly in the vicinity of the Temple of Heaven, such as the Goldfish Pond, Fata Temple, Sikuaiyu, and Tianqiao.

The Temple of Heaven was originally constructed as a place for the joint worship of heaven and earth, hence its name "Tianditan" (Temple of Heaven and Earth), which can still be observed from the shape of its current surrounding wall. The wall of the temple has two layers, inner and outer, both of which are circular in the south and square in the north, in accordance with the traditional Chinese concept of the heaven being round and the earth being square. Although the separate worship of heaven and earth was established in the ninth year of the Jiajing reign, with the construction of the Temple of Earth in the northern suburbs, the enclosing wall of the Temple of Heaven remained unchanged.

The Temple of Heaven was first built in the 18th year of the Yongle reign of the Ming Dynasty (1420). Emperors of the Ming and Qing dynasties conducted rituals here to worship the heavens, pray for good harvests, and seek rain. The legends of the Temple of Heaven originated and developed due to its architectural significance and the grand ceremonies of imperial worship. The integration of the "unity of heaven and man" cosmology gave the Temple of Heaven complex a sacred and unique symbolism, becoming an important driving factor for the occurrence and prosperity of related legends. The Temple of Heaven legends can be roughly categorized into five parts: the establishment legend, landscape legend, folklore legend, root legend, and legends related to significant figures.

The Temple of Heaven legends have been passed down through the unique oral tradition of folk literature, continuing to be transmitted within social communities. For hundreds of years, they have been spread through word of mouth. In the 1980s, the Chongwen District Cultural Center (now the Dongcheng District Second Cultural Center) and the management office of the Temple of Heaven Park compiled and edited the "Selected Compilation of Folk Literature in Chongwen District" and "Legends of Scenic Spots in the Temple of Heaven." Since the national intangible cultural heritage survey in 2005, the Chongwen District Intangible Cultural Heritage Protection Center (now the Dongcheng District Intangible Cultural Heritage Protection Center) has organized efforts to collect and record a new batch of legends of the Temple of Heaven.

The Temple of Heaven legends have deep historical, cultural, and literary value. Firstly, they embody a series of Chinese cosmological beliefs such as "Heaven as Yang, Earth as Yin," "Heaven being round and the Earth being square," "unity of heaven and man," and "harmony between heaven and man." Secondly, legends whether related to the architecture and functions of the Temple of Heaven, or philosophical concepts of the balance between Yin and Yang, or associated with the emperor's activities and rituals, they are interpretations made from the perspective of ordinary people. Thirdly, the Temple of Heaven legends have been spread through various channels, making them widely known and extended. In 2011, the Temple of Heaven legends were included in the third batch of China's national intangible cultural heritage representative project list.