The following is the result of an afternoon’s translation of my first 汉语课 (Hànyǔ kè, Chinese general reading and writing class) textbook essay.
I feel like the character Alexi from Everything is Illuminated, a Ukranian with a tendency to speak grammatically correct English but using words with meanings that are always just shy of what he wants to convey, resulting in hilarity (Eric told me I should be a stand up comic, considering how I translate things into Chinese, anyway). Suprisingly, I find myself using big words all the time in ENGLISH (like my inner thesaurus went haywire and I’m trying to prove to myself that I can still speak my first language well), but I speak with terrifically Chinese grammar. So, my translation (which is literally straight translation- without making changes in grammar) reads a little like how I sound when I speak now. Except I don’t have a proclivity for expressing knowledge about temples and gods on the reg.
Beijing has some beautiful mountain parks, inside the parks have an altar to the god of the land and grain constructed out of five-colored earth.
The altar to the god of the land and grain is one of Beijing’s nine altars, it is the opposite of the Temple of Heaven. Ancient emperors, sacrificed to the sky at the Temple of Heaven, sacrificed to the earth at the altar to the god of the land and grain, the purpose of sacrifice to the sky and earth is just one: in order to have a big grain harvest. Grain grows out of the earth, therefore people consider the god of grain Ji and the god of earth She should be together.
The altar to the god of the land and grain is a square shaped altar, its east is green dirt, the south is red dirt, the west is white dirt, the north is black dirt, and the middle is yellow dirt. East, West, South, North, Center, form the five sides, five dirts concept. The middle to upper reaches of the Yellow River is the Chinese Nation’s place of origin, where there is a vast yellow dirt plateau； because yellow is the traditional national color of nobility, therefore they take yellow and put it at the center.
The altar to the god of the land and grain is no longer mysterious; it is merely a relic of history. On festivals crowds of happy people perform/ demonstrate, usually small children play on top of it, also have people walking around thinking deeply. In China, you can go sightseeing in many places: You can watch the sunrise from Mount Taishan, you can watch the sunset from the Great Wall, you can go to the West Lake and row a boat, you can go to the Grassland and ride a horse… maybe you can also say hundreds of places （you can list hundreds of places）,but you definitely shouldn’t forget the alter to the god of land and grain. Although inside it doesn’t have beautiful buildings, just has five colors of dirt, but if it doesn’t have dirt, and doesn’t have the people who work on it, there wouldn’t be Chinese civilization. Walking on top of this five colored altar, you just walk into the river of time, you just walk into Chinese history, into a kind of old eastern idea.
Ancient Chinese people took the world and cut it up into East, West, South, North, and the Center parts, furthermore believe the world was formed by five kinds of basic things- water, fire, plants, metal, and earth, this is just ‘The Five Elements.’ According to these things’ colors also match become ‘Colors of the five elements:’ Because Metal is white, trees are dark green, deep water is black, fire is red, the earth is yellow, hence Chinese people just use white, green, black, red, and yellow as the five colors to match with metal, trees, water, fire, and earth, to represent their own understanding of the world.
Looking at this altar to the god of land and grain, you will just remember many stories on dirt. Some people going to far away places sometimes take a small packet of soil from their homeland, furthermore before they die tell their family that if they themselves after death cannot be buried at home, just take their home soil and scatter it over their body. Chinese people use dirt to build things, after death they also become dirt…
If you arrive in Beijing, you definitely can’t forget to go and look at the alter to the god of land and grain.