The altars and the temples were one of the most important parts of the imperial building architecture in ancient china throughout dynasties. The historical records show that there were nine altars and eight temples for which each of them had specific usage during Ming and Qing Dynasty. All of these altars and temples were used as the place to worship and offer sacrifices to the God in order to pray for the peaceful of the nation. When compared among the imperial buildings throughout Beijing city, except the Forbidden City, the altars and temples are basically well preserved. All of these precious buildings can be describe as part of the most significant expression of the wonderful Imperial Culture of ancient China.
The Beijing city during Ming Dynasty had been well developed into a matured feudal capital and was well facilitated with temples and altars for sacrifices offering ceremonies. Together with the accomplishment of the constructions for Forbidden City in 1420, the most important temples and altars were also completed their constructions which included Tai Miao (Imperial Ancestral Temple), Fengxian Dian, Sheji Altar, Qigu Altar, Shanchuan Xiannong Altar, Kong Miao (Temple of Confucius) as well as many other altar and temples which were specifically for the use of imperial purposes.
The design of the Forbidden City was fully constructed according to the Kaogong Ji (The Records of Examination of Craftsman or Book of Diverse Crafts). Kaogong Ji was compiled during the ends of the Spring and Autumn Period (770 BC to 476 BC) which regarding the classic work on science and technology in ancient China. This records were later included as a part of a famous book named Zhou Li during Han Dynasty (202 BC to 220). According to Kaogong Ji, the imperial palace must be designed in such a way that the buildings for state affairs should be in front and the residential area at the back of these buildings; while the left of the palace should be the place to worship ancestors and the place to pray for the nation was on the right. As a result, the Tai Miao (Imperial Ancestral Temple) is located to the east while Sheji Tan is on the west of the Forbidden City.
According to the historical records, the altars for worshipping the Heaven and the Earth were normally built at the outskirts of the capital of the nation. During Jin Dynasty (1115 to 1234), the altar for worshipping the Heaven was built right to the south of Fengyi Men, the South City Gate of capital Zhongdu. When came to the Yuan Dynasty (1271 to 1368), the place for worshipping heaven was located 7 miles away to the south eastern part of LiZheng Gate which situated at the south of the city. There were record showing that after Yuan Dynasty, the ceremonies for worshipping the Heaven and the Earth were basically organized at two different venues in which ceremony for worshipping the Heaven was carried out at the altar in the southern part of the capital while ceremony for worshipping the Earth was taken place at the altar in the northern outskirt of the capital.
Upon Ming Dynasty (1368 to 1644), new altar was introduced. Besides altars for worshipping the Heaven and the Earth, Altar of Agriculture which built according to the imperial system of Nanjing was constructed in Beijing in 1420. In year 1530, Emperor Jiajing decided to separate the worshipping ceremonies for different purposes. So, new altars were built at the four compass directions with the Forbidden City was the geographical center. Temple of Heaven was built right to the south, the Temple of Earth at the north, Temple of Sun at the east and Temple of Moon at the west.
According to the history, the ceremonies for worshipping the God were normally taken place at the outskirts of the capital. Thus, the Temple of Heaven, Temple of Earth, Temple of Sun and Temple of Moon were constructed beyond the city wall of Beijing during that time. Anyway, during the reign of Emperor Jiajing, the construction for the Outer City was started and as a result, Temple of Heaven and Temple of Agriculture were rounded inside the city wall. In this case, it seemed to be ceremony for worshipping the Heaven was no more taken place at the outskirt of Beijing since the temple was already within the Outer City Wall. In order to solve this problem, Emperor Jiajing ordered to enlarge the area of Temple of Heaven with its wall attached to the Outer City Wall. So, even if the altar is actually located inside the city, it seemed to have the meaning of outskirt as it had entrance from the outside of the Beijing Outer City Wall.
In previous age, Xiannong Tan (Temple of Agriculture) which located to the west of Temple of Heaven was the must visit destination for the emperors during spring season annually. Temple of Agriculture was used by Ming and Qing emperors to perform sacrifices as well as to encourage the citizens to work properly on the land. As referred to the traditional Chinese culture, male should work hard in the land for agriculture products while the ladies were responsible for textile products. Thus, Temple of Agriculture was the destination where the emperor hosted for agriculture related occasions while Xiancan Tan (Altar to the Goddess of Silkworms) served as the venue for the Empress to encourage the female citizens to raise silkworms and produce high quality of cloths. Anyway, due to the distance between the Forbidden City and the Altar to the Goddess of Silkworms could be considered as far during the ancient time, the Altar to the Goddess of Silkworms which located around Anding Men at the northern part of Forbidden City was used only once throughout the history. Anyway, this occasion had become the only events in China throughout the dynasties which attended by female only.
The nine altars and eight temples during Ming and Qing Dynasty were actually referred to the following:
1. Tian Tan (Temple of Heaven)
2. Di Tan (Temple of Earth)
3. Qigu Tan (Altar of Harvests)
4. Chaori Tan (Temple of Sun)
5. Xiyue Tan (Temple of Moon)
6. Taisui Tan
7. Xiannong Tan (Temple of Agriculture or Altar of Agriculture)
8. Xiancan Tan (Altar to the Goddess of Silkworms)
9. Sheji Tan
1. Tai Miao (Imperial Ancestral Temple)
2. Fengxian Dian
3. Chuanxin Dian
4. Shouhuang Dian
5. Yonghe Lamma Temple
7. Wen Miao
8. Diwang Miao throughout the dynasties
Up to the decline of Qing Dynasty, the amount of temples in Beijing has reached the amount of over 3000. These nine temples were actually the places where the emperors of Ming and Qing Dynasty organized different occasions. The events which took place at these temples were normally considered as the important royal ceremonies which hosted by royal family members only. The Tai Miao (Imperial Ancestral Temple), Fengxian Dian and Chuanxin Dian located in Forbidden City, as well as Shouhuang Dian and Tangzi at Jingshan Park were five out of eight temples which worshipping the imperial ancestors. On top of that, Yonghe Lama Temple was previously the palace for Emperor Yonghe which later half of the area had been transformed into a Lama Temple. After that, the residential area for Emperor Yonghe was destroyed in a fire, and then the temple was modified into the residential area again. Thus, it was named as Yonghe Lama Temple. On the other hand, Wen Miao which used to offer sacrifices for Confucius as well as the Diwang Miao throughout the dynasties were all serving as the temples for imperial used especially for imperial ceremonies. Thus, the status for these eight temples is totally different when compared to the rest of 3000 temples in Beijing.