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Ancient Beijing granary opens to public for 1st time

By Wang Ru | China Daily | Updated: 2024-04-19 09:27
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Students from Yucai Primary School visit the newly opened Divine Granary at the Altar of the God of Agriculture in Beijing on Thursday. WANG ZHUANGFEI/CHINA DAILY

A Beijing complex long shrouded in mystery began to welcome tourists on Thursday.

After two years of renovation, Shencang — the Divine Granary at the Altar of the God of Agriculture — opened to the public for the first time with the staging of an exhibition about its history and culture.

The opening coincided with the International Day for Monuments and Sites.

The altar, in the capital's Xicheng district, was an imperial sacrificial complex for emperors to worship the god of agriculture during the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) dynasties. It is now the Beijing Ancient Architecture Museum.

Emperors regularly visited the altar for the ceremonial tilling of land to encourage agricultural development, said Li Ying, director of the museum's display and preservation department and curator of the Shencang exhibition.

As part of the altar, the granary was used to store grain harvested from farmlands tilled by emperors for use as sacrificial supplies for ceremonies, and had buildings for drying, storing and grinding grain and storing farm tools.

It was first built in 1531 during the reign of Ming Emperor Jiajing (1522-66) east of the current location and was moved in 1753 at the request of Qing Emperor Qianlong (1711-99).

Li said that since grain can easily fall prey to mold, damp or worms, the complex was designed to better preserve the crop. For example, real-gar, a mix of arsenic and sulfur, was added to the pigment used to paint coiled flower patterns on its ceilings to ward off worms.

The buildings used to store grain also had skylights for ventilation to help prevent mildew, she said.

Li said restorers found some carbonized grains under floors during renovation, which are now on display.

"Sacrificial offerings were mainly of three types — meat, fruits and vegetables, and grains — and grains were always put in the middle," she said. "This is a reflection of ancient China's governance principle of treating agriculture as the basis of a country."

The grain stored at Shencang was also used in sacrifices at other temples and altars in Beijing, playing an important role in imperial sacrificial ceremonies, Li said.

Chu Jianhao, deputy director of the Beijing Municipal Cultural Heritage Bureau, said: "Although the Divine Granary complex has a history of nearly 500 years, it was never accessible to the public and remained an unknown yet important heritage site ... In the past, Shencang was a name in ancient books and literature, but now it's a heritage site open to the public showing progress in the protection of Beijing's old city landscape."

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