My Itchy Travel Feet | The Baby Boomer's Guide To Travel

The Temple of Heaven: Where Chinese Boomers Hang Out

2011/06/29by Donna Hull

temple-heaven-hall-prayer-good-harvests-china

The Hall of Prayer For Good Harvests

Most baby boomer visitors to The Temple of Heaven in Beijing, China are awed by the sheer magnitude of the Taoist complex. Did you know that it’s three times larger than The Forbidden City? And oh those colors! The intricately designed buildings with their blue-tiled conical roofs and red facades are impressive and particularly photogenic. But what delighted me the most, when Alan and I arrived to explore, were the Chinese boomers hanging out in the park that surrounds The Temple of Heaven.

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Bicycles crowd the entrance to The Temple of Heaven

The sea of parked bicycles was our first clue that something big was happening here. After entering the gate, we walked down the sidewalk shaded by cypress trees that are hundreds of years old. But we soon learned that we had not happened upon some important event.

“No,” said Jane, our Chinese guide, “This is every day life for retirees in Beijing.”

It was like New York’s Central Park on steroids. To my left, a group of boomers practiced Tai Chi. On my right, men and women retirees exercised using fans. And then there were the badminton tournaments or chess for the more sedentary Chinese baby boomer. Dancers clogged the sidewalks as their leaders shouted instructions. One group practiced ballroom dancing while another danced the jitterbug. I had to restrain myself from dragging Alan over to join the fun.

temple-heaven-beijing-china-singer

Singing and dancing at The Temple of Heaven

Continuing the walk toward the entrance to The Temple of Heaven, we turned a corner to discover a woman and man entertaining a crowd. Dressed in a pink sweater, blue jean skirt and yellow shoes, the woman sang and danced to her partner’s harmonica accompaniment. Across the way, a male opera singer belted out an aria as an older gentleman wearing war medals pinned to his coat pocket listened intently.

Entering through the ticket gate at The Temple of Heaven, we moved from the world of the Chinese retiree to an era (beginning in the 1400’s) when the emperors of the Ming and Qing dynasties prayed for the optimum time to plant and for a successful harvest. Joining tourists, both local and international, we marveled at The Hall of Prayer For Good Harvests. The round building with three-tiered roof is made of wood but no nails were used in the construction.

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Opera at The Temple of Heaven

Our adventure at The Temple of Heaven could have lasted an entire day, but we had more of Beijing to see. When we left, the crowd in the park had thinned out, although small clusters of boomers were deep into conversation. Jane explained that Chinese parents come here to make a wedding match for adult children who are too busy with careers to care about marrying.

Alan and I visited Beijing on a cruise excursion when we sailed on Regent Seven Seas Mariner from Vancouver to Singapore. Regent offered all passengers transportation to and from Beijing plus one night’s free stay, with the option to purchase a second night. Our accommodations at the Regent Beijing Hotel were luxurious and convenient. Although the ship’s tour office offered free tours in Beijing, we hired a private guide, Jane Yeo, who unfortunately has closed her guiding service.

Have you visited The Temple of Heaven? Post a comment to share your experience. Alan and I would like to return, especially to watch the Chinese baby boomers having fun.



A boomer travel and lifestyle authority who is exploring the world one activity at a time. Besides writing and publishing My Itchy Travel Feet, she also writes about boomer travel for My Well-Being Powered by Humana, Make It Missoula and is the author of New Mexico Backroads Weekend Adventure.

{ 37 comments… read them below or add one }

Sandy2118 June 30, 2011 at 3:26 pm

Wow!  Now I really envy you.  I have wanted to visit China for eons.  This sounds like the perfect trip for me and my 73-year-old husband.  Instead, we have been raking in the garden, in preparation for planting grass seed.  Does not compute at our ages …

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Donna Hull
Twitter:
June 30, 2011 at 6:01 pm

I hope you’ll find the chance to visit China, Sandy. Working in the garden will help keep us young. Speaking of weeding, there’s plenty of that to do in my yard this weekend. We’ll be working together in spirit!

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Ruthpennebaker June 30, 2011 at 3:30 pm

My husband and I would love to go to China, but its sheer size is daunting. I’m thinking a private guide, even for a few days, would be mandatory.

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Donna Hull
Twitter:
June 30, 2011 at 6:02 pm

Yes, China is huge – just like visiting the U.S. all at once – it can’t be done. The next time Alan and I visit China, we plan to hire a private guide. We’ll probably concentrate on just one or two areas thought.

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Living Large June 30, 2011 at 3:36 pm

I’ve never been to China, but it sounds awesome. 

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Donna Hull
Twitter:
June 30, 2011 at 6:03 pm

The interesting part about visiting China is there’s such a difference in our cultures.

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Living Large June 30, 2011 at 3:36 pm

I’ve never been to China, but it sounds awesome. 

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Barbara Weibel June 30, 2011 at 3:40 pm

Ooh! I missed this temple when I visited Beijing, but I only had two days there and it was just enough time to see the Forbidden City, Bei Hai Gardens and the old alleys. Though China was a frustrating experience for me (particularly Shanghai), I did like Beijing and would happily go back there. Sounds like I culd spend an entire day hanging around with the Chinese Boomers :-)

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Donna Hull
Twitter:
June 30, 2011 at 6:04 pm

I’d like to go back to dance with those boomers at The Temple of Heaven. Although, they are much better at ballroom dancing than I am.

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Barbara Weibel June 30, 2011 at 3:40 pm

Ooh! I missed this temple when I visited Beijing, but I only had two days there and it was just enough time to see the Forbidden City, Bei Hai Gardens and the old alleys. Though China was a frustrating experience for me (particularly Shanghai), I did like Beijing and would happily go back there. Sounds like I culd spend an entire day hanging around with the Chinese Boomers :-)

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sheryl June 30, 2011 at 3:46 pm

How impressive – not only the beauty of the place, but the place as a gathering ground for so many people. I think it’s wonderful for retirees to have a place to get together and spend their days in such a positive way.

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Donna Hull
Twitter:
June 30, 2011 at 6:04 pm

While we look at it as a positive, I do recall hearing that many older Chinese have been pushed out of their jobs. It’s one reason we saw so many of them at The Temple of Heaven.

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nopotcooking.com
Twitter:
June 30, 2011 at 5:25 pm

Oh wow. This would be amazing to visit. You inspire me so much with all the wonderful places there are to see! That’s why I love reading your blog.

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Donna Hull
Twitter:
June 30, 2011 at 6:04 pm

Thanks, Brette!

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Roxanne Hawn June 30, 2011 at 9:03 pm

Ha! Well, you’re going to love my tweet about this because I thought you meant Chinese Baby Boomers, and I was curious if they had a baby boom that matched the one in the U.S. Hee … I’m silly.

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Donna Hull
Twitter:
June 30, 2011 at 9:05 pm

No, Roaxnne, you’re not silly. I am. I was just having fun with the idea of Chinese baby boomers. Besides calling them retirees sounds so boring :-).

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Christine July 1, 2011 at 1:12 am

I haven’t visited that place but I just returned from China and got to see a palace that was full of meaning and symbolism in every corner. It was amazing. Thank you for this – I feel like I was right there with you!

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Christine July 1, 2011 at 1:12 am

I haven’t visited that place but I just returned from China and got to see a palace that was full of meaning and symbolism in every corner. It was amazing. Thank you for this – I feel like I was right there with you!

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Donna Hull
Twitter:
July 1, 2011 at 2:51 am

Christine, what palaces did you visit? I’d love to hear more about your trip.

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Zenaida July 1, 2011 at 8:43 am

I have been to the Temple of Heaven complex often and even in the middle of winter, there are activities of the kind you described going on.  My most vivid memory is of a small group of elderly musicians gathering on a cold and sunny winter’s day:  each of them brought their music stand and notes and made Chinese traditional music with their gloves-minus fingers.  Playing their heart out, purely for the enjoyment of making music together. At the end, it seemed they were surprised by the warm applause they received from the considerable crowd that had gathered. 

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Donna Hull
Twitter:
July 1, 2011 at 12:47 pm

Zenaida, thanks for sharing your experience at The Temple of Heaven. I would have loved to listen to the musicians playing their hearts out.

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MyKidsEatSquid July 1, 2011 at 12:48 pm

What an interesting look at Chinese baby boomers. I’ve always wanted to visit China–thanks for the peek.

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Donna Hull
Twitter:
July 1, 2011 at 1:04 pm

There’s so much to see in China. I can’t wait to go back. Of course I made up the term Chinese baby boomers, they are really Chinese retirees.

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Susan July 1, 2011 at 3:45 pm

Sounds like the place to be! It’s great to hear about so many retirees getting out and being active. 

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Donna Hull
Twitter:
July 1, 2011 at 4:53 pm

Susan the grounds around The Temple of Heaven were buzzing with activity.

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Jennifer Margulis July 1, 2011 at 9:55 pm

Sounds like an amazing experience!

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Mark H July 1, 2011 at 10:13 pm

Maybe unfairly, I pictured baby boomer Chinese all doing tai-chi in a park at dawn or playing chess or mahjong quietly in a small square…

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Donna Hull
Twitter:
July 2, 2011 at 5:36 pm

That’s a misconception that I had, too. Of course with China’s vast population, nothing is small and quiet.

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Dream Travel Vacation July 2, 2011 at 2:59 am

It’s cool to see a lot of bikes belonging to the retirees. It shows that they are physically fit.  Temple of Heaven…I have heard of that place and want to go one day soon!    

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Jane Boursaw
Twitter:
July 2, 2011 at 3:40 pm

I love that exercise is a normal part of the routine of Chinese boomers. I think the Eastern cultures have always been more attuned to life, in more ways than one.

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Donna Hull
Twitter:
July 2, 2011 at 5:35 pm

I agree, Jane.

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Anonymous
Twitter:
July 3, 2011 at 11:02 am

So many people, so much entertaining fun – I laughed at the idea of parents coming to make matches for their career minded children – can’t imagine that happening hear although a little more personal than internet dating I suppose

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Donna Hull
Twitter:
July 4, 2011 at 2:32 am

Other areas of the great lakes also have sand dunes. Indiana for one.

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Vera Marie Badertscher July 3, 2011 at 7:21 pm

Very observant of you to find Chinese boomers!

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Donna Hull
Twitter:
July 4, 2011 at 2:32 am

I wish there would have been time to talk with them.

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Kris
Twitter:
July 6, 2011 at 9:27 pm

I’ve not been to China. I worry about the sheer number of people – I don’t do well in big crowds – but the sights are amazing.

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Donna Hull
Twitter:
July 6, 2011 at 10:06 pm

Talk about sheer number of people, we visited Tiananmen Square on the same day. It was the last day of the anniversary of communism in China. The square was packed and we were just about the only Caucasian visitors. The ship’s excursion skipped the square because there were several elderly cruisers in the group. If we had not been with Jane, we would not have attempted it. But I’m so glad we did. It was like going to the state fair. Floats were parked everywhere and the citizens were having a grand time.

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