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Beijing Day 5 - Yonghe Lamasery & Confucius Temple

It's different this time!

sunny 15 °C

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

We 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) because apart from Chinese, the other 3 ethnic groups all worship Tibetan Buddhism. Also, except for Han Chinese, I can't the tell other 3 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 the way 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 it really stands out as Chinese is the only ideogram while the other 3 columns 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 languages are 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 language would be Mongolian.

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 is about racial harmony. In particular, the racial harmony of the 4 major Chinese ethnic groups (not the largest, but the most influential). When the Jurchen ruled over the Central Plain - 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, 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).

Both the Jin and Yuan Dynasty didn't last long. Among other things, 1 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 Qianlong.

In Louis Cha's inaugural 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 read/seen/heard the many adaptations of novel/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 based on historical 'facts'. 'Facts' that are sometimes embellished with more decorations than a Christmas tree. However, I don't believe that he was the only, indeed the 1st to suggest that Qianlong was a Han Chinese. 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 (most likely) Uygur tribesmen from Xinjiang[3] in this novel.

The novel is in fact about the secret orgainsation called the Red Flower Society who tried to overthrow the Manchu-led Qing Court to restore the Han Chinese rule. So the last things 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 natural the Red Flor Socety and the Muslim tribesmen formed an alliance.

2 of the recurring theme that Louis Cha's many novels dealt with are conflicts among the various Chinese ethicities, 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.

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 English speakers tend to do). Remember this is the Chinese character that popped up in the performance about the Chinese movable printer in the Beijing Olympics Opening Ceremony. 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. 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 (wjom 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 more 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.

There's an Chinese expression that describes these historical developments aptly, "a Snake swallowing an Elephant" (although Dragon is more apt). This is the English equivalence of "bite off more than one can chew". I believe the Chinese saying is a more accurate description of the

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Posted by FrancisQ 05:54 Archived in China Tagged history beijing harmony racial tibetan_temple yonghe_palace lamasery

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