Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Beijing Day 5 - Yonghe Lamasery & Confucius Temple

Mulitculturalism, Chinese Ancient Style. Let's Get Alone.

sunny 15 °C

The windy condition in Beijing remained more or less the same as yesterday. We were slightly under dressed, thinking the wind would die down by at least somewhat. And we already packed everything into the luggage to be shipped to Fraser Suites, so we just had to grin and bear it. Ok, no grinning, just wincing.


Yonghe Palace




yonghegongWe decided to take the subway to get to Yonghe Palace, or Lama Temple, or Yonghe Lamasery. So which is it? Palace or Lamasery. Well, it was a palace that turned into a Tibetan temple. Why? This name plaque or sign at the top of the front gate should give clues.

This plaque says Yonghegong (雍和宮 = "Yonghe Palace") in 4 languages of the Manchus, Han Chinese, Tibetan and Mongolian (not in any particular order).

Apart from Chinese, the other 3 ethnic groups all worship Tibetan Buddhism (Chinese has their own version of Buddhism).

Also, except for Han Chinese, I can't the tell other 3 ethnic languages apart, and it's all Greek to me (I could tell Greek from other European scripts, however. In fact, Greek letters stands out from the rest of the European alphabets much like Chinese writing stands out in this plaque).

You don’t need to be a Chinese speaker to tell Chinese from the other 3 writings because Chinese is the only ideogram while the other 3 columns of scripts are more or less made up of 'alphabets' that run together (written from top to bottom). So I will make educated guesses as to which other 3 'cursive' scripts are by judging from their relative positions. Since Chinese (and other Asiatic, including Arabic, are written from right to left), therefore the rightmost column would be Manchurian writing as the Emperor and owner of this palace was Manchu. The 3rd from the right is Tibetan writing as this is a Tibetan Temple. And by process of elimination, the leftmost column of script would be Mongolian. I believe my conclusion is correct.

Tibetan monk in Yonghe Palace, Beijing, China
Tibetan monks

If you have heard Paul McCartney's "Ebony and Ivory" (duo with Steve Wonder), the 1st 2 lines of lyrics goes like this,

Ebony And Ivory Live Together In Perfect Harmony.
Side By Side On My Piano Keyboard, Oh Lord, Why Don't We?

So instead of piano, we have name plaque on a gate; and instead ebony and ivory keys, we've 4 languages. Instead of "Oh Lord, why don't we?", we have "Oh, Buddha, why the hell not?"

Like the theme of the song, this temple captured the spirit of or embodied the ideals of Chinese ethnic harmony. In particular, the ethnic harmony of the 4 major Chinese ethnic groups (not the largest in numbers, but the most powerful and influential). When the Jurchen ruled over the Central Plain (中原) - ancient name for China - in the Jin dynasty in the 12th century, they answered the Han Chinese’s discontent with brutal military oppression. When Genghis Khan promised to help the Chinese to overthrow the Jin Dynasty[4], the Han Chinese said "You're so kind". And when the Khan got rid of the Jin Dynasty, they applied the same medicine to the Han Chinese. "Sucker you Han people!" (in Mongolian, of course).


yonghegong, yonghe palace lamasery, Beijing, China

yonghegong, yonghe palace lamasery, Beijing, China


Both the Jin and Yuan Dynasty didn't last long (100 years isn't a long time to the Chinese). Among other things, one of the factor of their downfall was their Rule by Force, which the Qing Emperor Yongzheng judiciously realised was a bad idea. So he devised various policies to rule by conciliation. And this policy of harmony was extended by his heir to the throne Emperor Qianlong.


The Book and the Sword by Louis Cha
Louis Cha, better known to the Chinese
by his pen name Jing Yong
In Louis Cha's 1st novel The Book and the Sword (1956), Emperor Qianlong turned out to be the son of a high ranking official of the Han Chinese (I hope I don't spoil it for people who haven't seen/heard the many adaptations of the novel into movies/TV series/radio dramas).

Louis Cha is the most popular wuxia writer in the Chinese speaking world. Among many other reasons, one is because many of his novels are a masterful and an entertaining blend of historical facts and fiction. 'Facts' that are sometimes embellished with more decorations than a Christmas tree (we all liked to be dazzled by symbolically loaded meaning).

In this book, he suggested that Qianlong was a Han Chinese. I don't believe that he was the only one, indeed the first to do so. This was because of how much affection Qianlong had for the Chinese people and culture.

I have little doubt that other Chinese historian before him must have done that. He just made use of their controversial, thus delicious, historical hearsay into his book. "The Book" in the title refers not to the the Bible, but another sacred text, the Koran. The Koran belonged to the (probably) Uygur tribesmen from Xinjiang[3] in this novel.

The novel is in fact about the secret organisation called the Red Flower Society who tried to overthrow the Manchu-led Qing Court to restore the Han Chinese rule. So the last thing the Qing Court needed was more enemies from other ethnic groups like Mongolian and Tibetan.

Both the Muslim tribesmen and Han were discontent with the Manchu's rule, and so logically the Red Flower Society and the Muslim tribesmen formed an alliance. The Yonghegong also plays a part in the novel. When the member of the Red Flower Society are invited in Yonghegong for a feast[5], the Tibetan lama, under Emperor Qianlong's instruction, torches the temple for the expressed purpose of turning them into barbeques.

Two of the recurring themes that Louis Cha's many novels dealt with are conflicts among the various Chinese ethnic groups, and nationalism/patriotism. And not just Han Chinese patriotism. In fact, in The Book and the Sword, the Muslim tribesmen are being portrayed as honourable people, defended themselves to the very tragic end as their tribe were massacred by the Manchu army.

The name Yonghegong was derived clearly from the 1st name of the Emperor Yongzheng (雍正) and the word "He" ("和" = Harmony, should be pronounced more like "Her", not "He" as most English speakers tend to do). Remember this is the Chinese character that popped up (literally) in the performance depicting the Chinese movable printer in the Beijing Olympics Opening Ceremony.

Performance that depicts the Chinese invention of the movable type printer
during the Olympic Opening Ceremony in 2008
This scene depicts the Great Wall of China

In the following youtube video of the dance performance, you can see the ancient Chinese character "He" (和)  popped up @ 3:24 and the word appeared and re-appeared for more than 2 mins during the performance to re-iterate its importance.


If there's ever 1 word that captures Chinese culture, "He" (Harmony) would be it. This word is, in essence, what Confucianism is all about. Although the Harmony Confucius referred to is between persons, and between persons to state, not peoples. I think Confucius would say that his principles - borrowing IT terminology - it's totally scalable.

China is one of those country that got bigger as it was conquered by others. The neighbouring foreign conquerors ruled over China, and then got absorbed into it. Various neighbouring countries had reigned over China: Tibetan captured and sacked Chang'an (modern day Xi'an) in 763 AD; a confederate of Turkic peoples (whom were called the Toubas[1] founded a Kingdom in Shanxi named Northern Wei with Datong[2] as its capital (AD 386 - 534). As the Mongol took over the Middle Kingdom (or the more literally translation "Central Country"), Inner Mongolia eventually became part of China. After Manchus toppled the Ming Dynasty, Manchuria eventually became part of China.

This temple was a concrete symbol of that policy of harmony of the 4 major ethnic communities. The Qing’s Dynasty lasted much longer than their ancestors the Jurchen people, or the Mongol rule. Their downfall was due to far more complex circumstances, not just the enemies from within, but threats from without. In short, they couldn’t keep up with the time. They didn’t take a leaf from Emperor Meiji in Japan, and eventually led to their failure to prevent the Imperial Japanese invasion.

I entertained the idea that what would happen if the Imperial Japanese had successfully annexed China during WW2? In time, it too would become a Chinese province. "This time it's different", some historians might argue. Maybe. But that famous last words had been echoed through the ages of Chinese history by different ethnic conquerors and the outcome is the same with NO exception, so far.

While this Sinicization of the different conquerors of China is typical in Chinese history, it isn't unprecedented. One example is the Norman. They were pagan Viking who conquered France, but in turn, being turned into a French-speaking Christian.

It makes even more sense for the conquerors of the Middle Kingdom to undergo this cultural absorption because China is far bigger; its history far longer, and its culture far deeper than any of its conquerors.

For example, today people - both within and without China - don't think of qipao as a Manchu dress. It's thought of as a Chinese dress.

Towards the end of The Book and the Sword, Louis Cha seemed to tell us - using Qianlong's mouth - that while the emperor was a Machiavellian incarnate, under his rule China achieved peace and prosperity. It really didn't matter what ethnic group was running the imperial court.
The word "Harmony" (="He") may very well synonymous with "Assimilation".

Speaking of Confucius, or what I would like to call, Chinese Jesus, has a temple named after him just opposite Yonghe Lamasery. We spent an hour there. Kinda makes sense that this 2 temples are locating next to one another considering what I said above.


yonghegong, yonghe palace lamasery, Beijing, China


yonghegong, yonghe palace lamasery, Beijing, China yonghegong, yonghe palace lamasery, Beijing, China yonghegong, yonghe palace lamasery, Beijing, China


Read this travel article for more on Chinese ethnic minority.


Confucius Temple

Confucius Temple entry ticket, Beijing, China Confucius Temple entry ticket, Beijing, China


Statue of confucius. Confucius Temple, Beijing, China Bronze bell, Confucius Temple, Beijing, China Burner, Confucius Temple, Beijing, China


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[1]  They descended from the Central Asian Huns (Xiongnu).
[2]  I"ll there next week.

[3]  In the novel, Xinjiang was refered to with its ancient name Huijang. Literally, Xinjiang (=新疆) is "New Territory" while Huijiang (=回疆) literally means "Hiu Territory". "Hui" is Chinese for Islam. The word "Hui" in terms I suspect either came from the Uyghur or the Hui people.

[4] The most well kown of Louis Cha's novel - The Legend of the Condor Heroes - is based the historical conflicts between the Jin, the Mongol, and the Han Chinese.

[5]   In the novel,  this makes sense because one couldn't imagine this bunch of Han Chinese would be allowed to enter the Forbidden city, rebels or not.