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Solar Ceremony Restored


Text by Liu Haile?Photographs by Wan Quan

After his retirement, Wang Deqin started taking walks in Ritan (Sun Altar) Park near his Beijing home everyday. Despite its central location, the park, encircled by foreign embassies, serves as a tranquil retreat from the hurly-burly of the metropolis.

On March 21, 2011, Spring Equinox, Wang found himself in awe during his daily stroll. Due to throngs of people dressed in Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) attire, he felt like he had taken a wrong turn and entered a TV show depicting the Qing Court. He consulted other visitors and learned that the ancient sun worship ceremony had been revived there after a hiatus of more than 160 years.

Resurrected Rituals

The Sun Altar preserved in Ritan Park can be traced back to 1530 during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) era. In ancient times, Ming and Qing emperors would preside over grand ceremonies each year to worship the sun during Spring Equinox. Although less important than the ancient heaven worship ceremony, the sun worship event remained one of ancient China’s most notable royal sacrificial rituals. The ceremony faded away after 1843, the 9th year of the reign of Emperor Daoguang.

Before 2011, Beijing’s other three major sacrificial altars - heaven, earth, and the moon - had already restored respective ancient royal rituals, attracting numerous visitors. Last June, a plan to restore the sun worship ceremony was given top priority at Chaoyang District Culture Center, which organized the event.

After months of preparation, the restored sun worship ceremony kicked off on March 21, 2011. Performers emerged from all walks of life. For instance, those playing the honor guard were policemen, musicians came from local rural bands of Chaoyang District, and those playing the emperor and ministers were volunteers. Even so, the performance strictly followed procedures for sun worship described by historical records of the Qing Dynasty.

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