The Fasting Hall

The Fasting Hall at Beijing’s Temple of Heaven is a dedicated set of buildings where the Emperor would fast, meditate, and study religious texts in the days before practicing sacrificial rites to Heaven. As I walk its perimeter, I suddenly find myself alone, for once not surrounded by a sea of people. In the silence I am swept back in time…

A crow calls off in the distance, as a gentle wind rustles through the cypress trees. The air was warm a moment ago, lushness of spring. But the wind that lifts the branches and makes them whisper so is chill, with a breath of rain on its lips. The flat grey sky makes the bright paint on the Fasting Hall dull, though its vibrancy could never be extinguished. The walls are ochre red, the eaves gilt with gold and brilliant hues of blue and green, the deepest one could imagine. The square-angled structure floats as an island, surrounded by the water of a moat, accessible by bridge on the north and south sides.

I pause for a rest on the short wall surrounding the moat and watch the water ripple with the breeze. The wind picks up, and the droplets begin to fall, making dimples on the water’s surface. A pair of ducks take shelter under the bridge. The rain is soaking through my robe, but the rain is warm and the air smells fresh. It is pleasant. But time presses on and I must leave, to attend to matters of imperial importance.

…I return to myself, eyes snapping open to see the moat now filled with dried-out grass. A rain-laden breeze pushes through the cypress trees, ancient energy echoing in its sigh, reverberating through the shell of this place.

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