Covering an area of nearly 10,000 square meters (107,600 square feet), the Divine Music Administration is located in the southwestern part of the Temple of Heaven. Known as the highest ritual music academy of the Ming and Qing Dynasties (1368 - 1911), it is the managing organ of the ceremonial musical instruments as well as the exercising place of the ritual music and dance. Built in 1420, it mainly trained performers of sacrificial music and dancing. Highly valued in terms of art and culture, the Divine Music Administration is regarded as one of the five major structures in the Temple of Heaven.
History of Divine Music Administration
There were 300 royal musicians and dancers when the Ming Empire (1368 - 1644) moved its capital to Beijing in 1420, so the Divine Music Administration was set to manage them. The officials and performers in the administration were all Taoists. Their number soon increased to about 600 people. The administration reached its peak in the reign of Emperor Jiajing of the Ming Dynasty, when the number of the performers totaled an amazing 2,200.
At that time, this was also a resort for the civilians to entertain themselves. Every year, the officials who accompanied the emperor to worship the heavens, would rent houses near the Divine Music Administration, thus making the area livelier. The Taoists planted many popular flowers and herbs. Drugstores were set up and they held a prosperous temple fair.
To keep the security and dignity of the imperial ritual site, the temple fair was disbanded during the Qing Dynasty (1644 - 1911). Only several popular drugstores remained. At that time, about 500 performers of the sacred music remained.
Facing the east, the Divine Music Administration is a rectangular building complex with three courtyards.
Covering an area of 600 square meters (6,500 square feet), the Ningxi Hall (named Taihe Hall in the Ming Dynasty) is the main hall in the first courtyard. It was originally used for displaying Shao music instruments and was a venue for rehearsals by court officials and ceremonial performers. Now, in addition to displaying the instruments, the “Zhonghe Shaoyue Performance Room” hosts performances of ancient sacrificial music and dance.
The Xianyou Hall (named Xuanwu Hall in the Ming Dynasty) is situated behind the Ningxi Hall. It was originally dedicated to the Taoist Emperor Xuanwu and some music gods. The hall is seven-rooms wide. There are colorful eave temperas inside and outside with are blue brick flaming furnaces in front of the hall. Ceremonial robes and costumes are stored in the rear. Xianyou Hall now serves as a Centennial Hall for Ancient Chinese Musical Figures. Sculptures of famous ancient Chinese musicians, such as Ling Lun, are displayed and murals tell stories about the musicians.
The Divine Music Administration is surrounded by 79 verandas. The verandas are now exhibition pavilions displaying the history of the building, harps and psalteries, drums, Xun, Sheng, Xiao and many other musical instruments. Visitors are allowed to play some of the instruments.
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