Were human sacrifices made at the Temple of Heaven? Probably. I can’t say for sure but history, references and structures in the Temple of Heaven indicate that human sacrifices were made.
First a little back ground on the Temple of Heaven. There are three main structures in the Temple of Heaven, the Circular Mound Alter, the Imperial Vault of Heaven and the Hall of Prayers for Good Harvest. The Circular Mount Alter consists of two areas, an inner circular area surrounded by an outer square wall. There are several minor structures in the outer square area. One of these structures is a round green tiled oven. An oven apparently used for…. here it comes…… “human sacrifices”. Next to this innocent looking oven is a pit called “the Pit of Hair and Blood”.
Circumstantial evidence you say. True. So a quick look at the history of human sacrifice in China starting with the Shang Dynasty.
History of Human Sacrifice in China
Shang Dynasty – 1766 BC and 1122 BC Also known as the Yin Dynasty ruled a large chunk of China for just under 650 years between 1766 BC and 1122 BC. During this period China was a slave society where slaves, non slaves, animals and anything else alive (and dead) made tempting sacrifices. Here are several examples of human sacrifice during the Shang Dynasty.
Human and animal sacrificial remains were found in Lou Yang city that dated back 2,700 years.
Researchers excavated a 3,300 year old Shang Dynasty palace cum temple complex in the ancient city of Huanbei. The complex had been stripped of good then burnt to the ground
after 50 years of use. Large number of human sacrifices were found in the complex.
The Shang may have been pretty simple about human sacrifice in the beginning but they were not slow to develop a level of sophistication. They developed a tanged axe called the Yueh that was initially used as a weapon then later became the ceremonial weapon used to put human sacrifices out of their misery.
Sacrificing young men and women to river deities (drowning them) and burying slaves alive when their owners when their owner died was in vogue during the Shang and Zhou Dynasties.
Zhou Dynasty – 1046 BC to 256 BC. Not to be outdone by the Shang Dynasty, the Zhou dynasty developed both animal and human sacrifice to their ancestors or deities as a routine part of Chinese culture. Bet that is one part of Chinese culture your Chinese friends will not brag out. Sacrifices where said to be often made to bless houses during this time. Think twice next time you are invited to the blessing of a Chinese home!
The Zhou Dynasty is regarded by historians as been more humanistic than the Shang Dynasty because human sacrifices where on the “wane”. True to form though, human sacrifice was practiced for the whole Zhou Dynasty.
Qin Dynasty – 221 BC to 206 BC. Not one to break precedent, the first Emperor had his tomb provided with the sacrificed bodies workers and soldiers. Personally I’m very grateful he did not take human sacrifices too seriously and made a Terracotta army to keep him company in the after life instead a bunch of dead guys that would not make an awesome tourist attraction 2,200 years later.
Other tombs, notably the Fengyang tomb from the Qin Dynasty were also found with human sacrifices where the victims were buried alive.
Han Dynasty – 206 BC to-25 CE. Artefacts such as this bronze vessel indicate that human sacrifice was still widely practiced.
Ming Dynasty – 1368 to 1644 . Human sacrifices went out of fashion for a while and by Emperor Hong Wu in 1395. His son died so to of the princes concubines where sacrificed to keep in company. In 1464 Emperor Zhengtong forbade the practice of human sacrifices.
Qing or Manchu Dynasty – 1644 to 1912. Human sacrifices came back into fashion AGAIN (reminds me of the mullet and flairs) only to be banned AGAIN by Emporer Kangxi in 1464.
Conclusion of Human Sacrifice and the Temple of Heaven
Interestingly the Temple of Heaven was completed in 1420 which leaves 44 years during the Qing Dynasty for it to be used for human sacrifice.
Back to the incriminating green tiled oven and pit of blood and hair. I could not find any direct links between human sacrifice and the Temple of Heaven BUT there is one very damning reference that comes up in so much tourism literature. That reference is
In the southeast corner, pine and cypress branches were burned in the green-tiled oven to welcome the gods from heaven. To bid farewell to the gods, human sacrifices were burned in the oven. Next to the oven is a special pit called the Pit of Hair and Blood because the hair and blood of the sacrificial victims were buried here.
In the end, there are 3 convincing points
1-Human sacrifices were widely practiced for most of Chinese history prior to the Temple of heaven’s construction.
2-Common references to the Temple of Heaven include the terms “human sacrifices” and “hair and blood of sacrificial victims”.
3-There is a very obvious oven that was not used to bake potatoes
Having a UNESCO listed world famous and very profitable tourist attraction connected with human sacrifice is not the best PR move so don’t expect human sacrifice to be heavily advertised and promoted. Just go there, experience enjoy the pure awesomeness of this amazing historical site with a fascinating, colorful and rich history and don’t give your tour guide a hard time by asking too many awkward questions.