Temple of Earth (Di Tan Park), Beijing. @Jan-2015
At beginning of 2015, I had a trip to Beijing during the New Year’s holiday. I was busy meeting old friends but fortunately squeezed half of a day to visit some places I want to take photos. One of my destinations was Temple of Earth. Before I share my stories when I was taking photos, lets know the park a bit more.
Some bits of background introduction:
Temple of Earth, it also named Ditan Park. It belongs to Great Five Temples of Beijing, which are Temple of Heaven (Altar of Heaven, TianTan Park), Temple of Earth (Ditan Park), Temple of the Sun (Ritan Park), Temple of the Moon (Yuetan Park) and Temple of Agriculture (Altar of Agriculture, Xiannongtan Park). It located in Andingmen area, which is a heavily populated area in Beijing. At 37.4 hectares, it is the second largest temple among the five temples.
It was initially built at year of 1530 by Emperor Jia Jing of Ming Dynasty, but the temple has been expanded by different Emperors during different dynasties. The temple’s main purpose is for religious events host for emperors can worship god of Earth. From 1531 to 1911, emperors during Ming Dynasty and Qing Dynasty had continuously hosted 381 worship events, and it made this temple become the most important temple for worships in Chinese history.
August 1923, an earthquake of 7.9 magnitude devastated Tokyo (the earthquake called Greate Kanto Earthquake). Emperor Pu Yi of Qing Dynasty opened the temple to public to do fundraising events for Tokyo Earthquake Donations, and this is the first time in history of Temple of Earth opened for public. At 1925, the park renamed to Jingzhao Park. During time of World War II and Chinese Communist Revolution (also called Chinese Civil War), Temple of Earth has been damaged and not been well managed for decades. Since 1980s, the park has been restored and renovated. After it re-opened for public at 1984, it became an very popular place for locals and visitors.
In traditional Chinese culture, Chinese people have believed many cosmic things can be symbolised by simple shapes and lines. For Temple of Earth, the footprint is square in shape. The square shape can represent grand or earth in Chinese culture and mythology. And this is reason the whole park was constructed with its many squares walls and altars, which mirrors these beliefs.
Even the park is accessible for public, but it is not free for public. Locals can purchase a yearly pass or monthly pass, and there is a single-visit ticket sold about 4 USD. The day I went there was an normal cold day in Beijing, but there were many local residents from nearby areas doing various activities in the park. You can see early retired people were playing Chinese Chess or dancing with friends or they were just sitting there enjoy some sunshine. And you can spot some traditional Chinese culture easily.
After you have read through this point, you might guess the park is very big. Yes, it’s huge. I have a fitness band on my wrist, I walked 30,000 steps in total after I checked the numbers at end of that day, and most of those steps were came from the visit to Temple of Earth (Ditan Park). But it was worth it.
Before this visit to Beijing, I was trying to have a good travel plan, so I had a talk with an old friend who lives in Beijing. I told him that I would like to do some street photography in Beijing, but his words makes me a bit nervous. He said the people lives in Beijing do not like to be photographed, and they might not only just get very angry, some people might start an serious argument or even a fight with you.
When the time I was thinking what cameras I need to bring for the trip, I did take my friend’s opinions very seriously. I packed a Leica M240 and Leica Monochrom with 3 prime lens, a 21mm, a 35mm and a 50mm. But for this visit to Ditan Park, I only shoot with M240 and a 35mm lens. This is an good combo for the places like this one. You could frame more background into the photo by just step back a few steps, and get some good detail shots by moving towards subject a little.
The reason I decided to bring my Leica, I was trying not to get much attentions from the people. I don’t want to get into a fight or any other unhappy situations. But when start shooting, even the people noticed me and my camera, they didn’t do anything that friend told me. They were very very nice mostly, some of them might not like to be photographed and they would tell me.
After that visit, the friend told me the advice had a dinner with me. We did talk about what I feel when I am shooting in streets in Beijing, and I think what he said is not true. At the end of this topic, we have come to a conclusion, how you shoot and how you treat your subjects in your mind are more important than anything else.
If you treat your subject with respect and show the respect when they noticed you, it would not make your subjects feel anything like been offended. In most of situations, it will not make the photographers into any trouble if you keep this in mind. And this is what I have been doing every time I shoot on street.
There was a time, I was trying to stand behind a person and take a photo which include him as foreground. He saw me before I was trying to move behind him, and he smiled to me and asking “Do you want me as the foregound?”. I said yes, and he smiled a gain and continues talking with his friends. I think I must know a lot about photography.
The park has a color theme of red, and the time I was there is near sun-set time. The walls and altars has very simple and clean shapes, it helps me to do compositions very easily. And the only thing I might not be so happy about which is the size of the park, but it was a good excise. 😛
If you have a plan or chance visiting Beijing, you can bring the camera to the Temple of Earth or any other four out of Great Five Temples of Beijing, it will worth the time.