National Geographic : 1936 Feb
APPROACH TO PEIPING some 15,000 troops were arrayed, with a large number of civilian officials and spec tators, and it is related that the courtyard seemed in no sense crowded. What now is seen in these palaces and courts is a setting only, a stage from which the players have departed, with their bright robes, their banners, and their stately processionals. About the public buildings of Peiping, the shrines, the halls, the pavilions, and the palaces, there are many books written. German and Russian and British savants have measured and dissected and surveyed. French scholars have breathed much life into the dry bones of architecture, dwell ing with ardor, also, upon the pavilions of pleasure, and the marble-capped wells in which were filed, head downward, dis carded favorites, male and female, of not too-immaculate sovereigns. VENERABLE STRUCTURES ARE FLIMSY Many of the structures are jerry-built and flimsy. The Chinese lacquer with which the surfaces are faced is cheap stuff, prone to flake off before it attains age. The fine pai-lous that arch the streets and de fine the approaches to important places are frail things which must be propped from every side while they are yet new. The stone, so intricately and beautifully carved, is soft and subject to quick erosion. Many of the most imposing edifices, such as the White Dagoba that dominates the Pei Hai, one of the "Three Seas," are of brick and rubble, surfaced with plaster which, unless renewed every season, sloughs away in patches. Distant views are im pressive, and close inspection disappointing. Yet there are many things that are beau tiful with an ageless beauty: corners of the Forbidden City, as delicate and fine as jewel filigree; the elaborate and cunning ornamentation under the eaves of the pa vilions; the porcelain screens and arches; the timeless splendor of the tiled roofs, that persists in spite of the weeds and shrubs which spring from accumulations of dust in the cracks between the tiles. The patterns and designs are frozen in conven tion, but trees and water, air and light, are integral parts of every arrangement. After you have dutifully followed the guidebooks through a score of temples and palaces, your impressions will tend to tele scope upon themselves. But there are two things that you will never forget: the Temple of Confucius and the Temple of Heaven. The Temple of Confucius is in the North City (the northern section of the Tatar City), between the Lama Temple (see text, page 284), and the old Hall of Classics. You come to it through noisome alleys that swarm with scavenger dogs and naked chil dren. A passage leads under murmurous dragon cypresses, between ranks of tall memorial tablets commemorating the visits and the patronages of emperors and princes. The passage opens upon a low terrace from which you descend to the central court by marble steps that flank a spirit stairway-Dragon eternally contending for the Pearl, between sculptured masses of sea and cloud. From it you face the temple, looking along an avenue of ancient trees so thickly set that their interlaced branches cast a cool greenish gloom, very grateful in the summer time. Flanking it are low build ings that serve as storehouses and sleeping quarters for the priests. The sun strikes through the trees and burns upon the old red walls of the pavilions, and the freshly painted patterns under the overhanging eaves glow richly in reflected light: turquoise blues and emerald greens, purples, and reds, and yellows. There are small golden-roofed kiosks, and sacrificial burners of a bronze no longer cast.* The noises of the city do not enter here. THE HIGH PLACE OF AN IDEA A gentle, courteous old priest with a hair less, ascetic face materializes from the shadows to attend you; he is unobtrusive and detached in robes of gray and black. There is no statue in the shrine: it is the High Place of an idea. Tablets, richly en graved, hang above the altar, publishing the virtues of the Sage, and the gray ash of joss sticks in the incense burner testifies to the devotion of many worshipers. The thing is wholly of the spirit. You need know nothing of Confucius, nothing of China, to realize that here is peace made visible; here is tranquillity; here are a bal ance and a symmetry removed from striv ing; the conception of minds that have, after mature thought, settled their prob lems. You come away with the feeling * See natural color photographs, "Peiping, City of Dust and Color," NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGA ZINE, November, 1934, and "Glory That Was Im perial Peking," by W. Robert Moore, June, 1933.