Xiannongtan (Temple of Agriculture)

World Monuments Watch
Beijing, China

The temple complex dedicated to Xiannong, the father of agriculture, was built in 1420 below the Forbidden City and adjacent to the famed Temple of Heaven in Beijing. During the Ming and Qing dynasties, a religious festival was held at Xiannongtan each year on the vernal equinox to welcome the season and guarantee an abundant harvest. The emperor, along with a parade of royal attendants and officials, would process from his palace in the Forbidden City south toward the Temple of Agriculture. There, in Jufu Hall, he discarded his imperial robes and donned farming clothes in preparation for the Tilling Ritual. When the emperor had completed the ceremony, he retired to Qing Cheng Palace on the eastern side of the complex, where he rested and entertained his entourage. This annual celebratory rite was performed sporadically over the centuries but ceased completely after Emperor Guang Xu’s final demonstration in 1906. Over the last hundred years, the buildings of the Xiannongtan complex have been utilized for military or industrial purposes, or have fallen into disuse.

1998 and 2000 World Monuments Watch

At the end of the twentieth century, many of the structures at Xiannongtan were in danger of collapse. To combat these trends, World

Monuments Fund initially placed the badly damaged Jufu Hall on the 1998 Watch and then expanded the listing to encompass all of Xiannongtan in 2000. After the complex received official government protection in 2001, the National Administration for Cultural Heritage and the Beijing municipality joined WMF in the effort to revitalize the site. WMF obtained funding to restore Jufu Hall, the Divine Kitchen, the Feasting Hall, Qing Cheng Palace, and a number of smaller architectural features within the confines of the complex. Work on each structure included stabilization, wood treatment, repair and conservation of the tiles, and consolidation and preservation of the painted decoration. The Divine Tablet Repository and the Holy Granary were converted into a museum to educate visitors about the history of the Xiannongtan complex.

The halls, pavilions, gates, and walkways of Xiannongtan are important architectural relics of extinct imperial traditions, connected both physically and historically to the Forbidden City and the Temple of Heaven. The Tilling Ritual and other agricultural ceremonies were first outlined by Confucius in the Li Ji, or Book of Rites, and they endured at Xiannongtan for centuries. In addition to the spiritual significance of the complex, Xiannongtan is also worthy of preservation for its aesthetic value and artistic merit. Jufu Hall, one of the major buildings at the site, possesses a multi-colored façade and a broad roof lined with glazed tile; inside, the wooden beams are adorned with lacquered images of imperial golden dragons. Now, with its structures restored and its museum open to the public, Xiannongtan is once again an integral part of historic Beijing.

Last updated: February 2019.

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