Tai Miao of China: a representation of the past

created: 2010-05-25

A former imperial temple and sacred place of ceremony, Tai Miao has changed a lot over the years. Few of the Buddhist monks who once worshipped there could have predicted how the historic site would one day host everything from book fairs to opera performances.

Yet its original function was as a place for emperors to commemorate their ancestors, after being built in 1420 as part of the Forbidden City. Its 139,650 square meters was divided into three separate areas, each with its own set of buildings, such as a temple of sacrifice and a temple for idols. It was here that successive emperors would come to pay homage to their predecessors, inaugurate their governance, marry or celebrate anniversaries and triumphs.

From private to public

Although the Qing Dynasty ended in revolution in 1911, Tai Miao remained in royal hands until 1925, when the Bei Yang government opened it to the public. Two years later, it was in the hands of the Ministry of Domestic Affairs, and it was not until 1950 that it acquired its current moniker. Visit its front door on the side of Tiananmen Gate Tower, opposite Chang'an Avenue, and you'll be told it is the Worker's Cultural Palace, open to all.

Along with its new name was a wholesale change of lifestyle, as the formerly hallowed ground became something of an entertainment hub, home to a theater, cinema, library and tennis court, among other things. Yet it seems not all of its former function have been forgotten: the main palace at Tai Miao hosted the 1976 funeral of the much-loved premier Zhou Enlai, as well as commander-in-chief Zhu De. Less in the tradition of mourning, admittedly, was the 1990 fashion show held here by Pierre Cardin.

The show set something of a precedent in terms of establishing the temple area as an alternative venue for cultural events, such as the Yanni Forbidden City Concert in 1997 and an outdoor performance of Turandot from Chinese film director Zhang Yimou the following year.

The Beijing Book Fair used to be held here as well, until it was switched to Ditan Park for conservation purposes. The last major event to be held there was a dress rehearsal of the official song for the Beijing Olympics.

Today, it's a more peaceful place, and in the summer, one can enjoy the soothing old atmosphere alongside joggers, tourists and couples able to enjoy a site once the preserve of imperial families. As the city's unofficial second Forbidden City, Tai Miao is now a truly non-forbidding place.

Year by year

1420: Tai Miao built as royal memorial palace.

1924: Tai Miao becomes a park, opened to the public for the first time.

1950: Worker's Cultural Palace officially opened to the public.

1976: Funerals of Zhou Enlai and Zhu De held.

1982: Group marriage ceremonies held.

1988: Tai Miao becomes a National Cultural Heritage Site.

1997: Yanni Forbidden City Music Concert held.

2002: Last Beijing Book Fair in Tai Miao held; events restricted to preserve site.

2008: 100-day countdown ceremony for Olympic Games conducted.


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