Hanoi Old Quarter, Vietnam

Published in People

Tons of motorbikes. I was overwhelmed by the noise; although, quaint and pretty in the Hanoi old quarter. It's also just tight sqeeze for cars. It's not that nice.  Hanoi Old Quarter when I first arrived was filled with motor scooters and people with small baseball hat helmets, which I found to be functional and discrete compared with a full sized helmet. Whether these small hardened baseball hats offer any protection to the outside world I'm not sure, although they must enforce the law quite severely for everyone to be wearing one. It's refreshing compared to China, which is far more lawless in this regard. The bikes don't stay in their lane and there were no stop signs or stop lights in this part of the city, which I found to be completely dysfunctional for the normal pedestrian who has to dodge traffic crossing the roads anywhere. I had one encounter upon leaving with my heavy luggage where the motor scooter had to brake quite severely. It seems that motor scooters form 3 lanes for every car lane, and one way traffic only. I heard it was a sea of motor scooters on the roads, but experiencing it at ground level is more chatotic and noisy than I had imagined. 


My brother had been interested in visiting Asia for a short while and had tossed the idea around and finally solidified some plans. I had never had Vietnam, Singapore or Malaysia on the top of my list of destinations, but once I started researching them online before the trip they became intriguing classy historic places to go. We were going to the guidebooks most recommended cities, old quarters, and areas within these three countries. It's one of the first times I've ever traveled for travels sake with a group. I usually travel alone on a pilgrimage kind of adventure to temples or working as part of the wildlife biology work that I do. 


When Luke and Stephanie arrive they feel the same way about Hanoi. In the late morning, we meetup at the Spring Flower hotel we're staying at nestled in the old quarter. My brother is a mid-career professional in the biotechnology industry working with biosensors for diabetes. He's been working for the same company for the past 6 years working as a biostatistician, and now senior biostatistician for the project making a biosensor to alert diabetes patients of falling insulin levels. Stephanie is 33 and a professional judges aid working in the legal industry in the court in San Diego.They've both never been abroad before. Erica just finished teaching English in Korea for a year, and this was her final Asia trip before heading back to the United States. The average American does not travel abroad, with statistics showing that over 45% have their passports, but only 5% ever leave the country and go abroad.  


They're going to attempt to push through the jetlag after their +15 hour flight and hope to explore, shop and see some sights in the old quarter. We decide we wanted to see the water puppet theatre that's famous in this area and decide to head over to buy our tickets, which cost roughly $5 per person. We at first were going to go the following evening, but changed our minds and bought tickets for the 8pm show. Then, we visit the illustrious Ngoc Son Temple or 'Temple of the Jade Mountain' which is dedicated to a war hero who defeated Kublai Khan's army in the 13th century in their attempt to invade Vietnam.  The temple built in the center of the 'Lake of the Returned Sword' or Han Kiem Lake. We venture inside the grounds of the temple and see a few frescos at the gateway of tigers and dragons. The writing on the outside appears to me to be Chinese lettering, but Vietnamese language 100 years ago looked like a Chinese script, which was later romanized.  We then crossed the long red bridge and past plumeria trees and tropical bonsais towards the temple.  We hang out in the gazebos overlooking the lake for a moment and venture inside the pagoda to see bronze statues, altars, ceramic dragons, large red horses, incense, fruit and food offerings, and meander throughout the compound to find a giant preserved turtle which was found in the lake weighing over 250 kg. There were only a few placarts explaining the interior of the temple. The legend of the lake stems from a Golden Turtle God being returned to the lake by an emporer who defeats the Chinese ming dynasty with his magical sword. Turtles are sacred to the lake and are auspicious to find swimming inside.


Afterwards, we want to walk around the old quarter to experience Hanoi.  Erica and Stephanie are obviously avid shoppers; therefore, they appear impeccable with the right clothes and the right accessories. They swarm the shops and start finding  handwoven bags to buy for a day bag. Unfortunately, I'm not interested in shopping at all, and I wind up standing on the street waiting for my brother and taking photos of the antique shops. What I find is interesting, with masks from a northern tribe in Vietnam. 


We then go in search of some street food and wind up at a place that serves only deep fried tofu,pork, noodles, salad with cucumbers mint and herbs, and tiger beers. We sit down in the characteristic low table and stools. Stephanie has never learned how to use chopsticks before and so the auntie, dressed in a leopard jumpsuit,  teaches her how to do it. I manage to eat my entire plate of food ravenously before she takes her second bite. I loved every bite. Putting red chili peppers and lime juice in the soy sauce excited my palate so much, I almost consider always spicing up normal soy sauce. How could I ever eat it the same again? 


We then go back towards the lake for a coffee at the café on the lake. It's an old building that has been turned into a café and bar. There are historic photos inside, which then made me look at some of the old buildings in a different light. Especially the big one behind the one we were eating at. That building has been 'modernized' and covered with neon signs and filled with businesses. The adjacent lake becomes lit up with rainbow colored lights at night and the small pagodas in the center are also lit up. The night scene was coming alive. We did a lap around the lake and headed to the water puppet theatre. The theatre's water stage is enchantingly lit. We all attempt to sit down, but my brother who is about 6'3" can't even fit in the seats. He's too tall, and at first they tell him to sit in the aisle. We decided he was a giant that came to Vietnam where most people are 1-2 feet shorter than he is. Finally he gets an aisle seat to enjoy the show. Apparently they choose 1-0 scenes from over 400 to perform.   I watched the 45 minute show with total joy and excitement, probably because I was hanging out with my brother. He and Stephanie, on the other hand, were totally crashing from their jetlag. I didn't find out until later but they were both close to completely nodding off. I felt so bad we even went to get coffee. After the show, we got out of there by 9pm, but instead of heading back to the hotel we have to go find a bag that Erica wants to match Stephanies. I realize the two jetlaggers are so tired that they just want to be taken back to the hotel, but for some reason we all tag along with Erica to find the bag store.  We get lost for about 10 minutes going down the wrong street, which ended up being completely crowded with stalls selling knick knacks and other crafts, which was my fault because I thought we wanted to simply go towards the hotel. I would have been happy to take them back knowing they were really tired. Apparently, hearing about this from Lucas and Stephanie later, they were totally overwhelmed with Hanoi at this point. The whirling of the motorbikes, and the sheer noise of the motorbikes made their head dizzy. It's obnoxious in Hanoi because they don't have any subway system. It's unbelieveable and overbearing at first to be amidst such heavy motorbike traffic trying to dodge the bikes to cross the streets, caught in a dangerous crossfire with seemingly no safety. Especially when you're crashing after a jetlag it's even more disconcerting. 


In the morning, my brother woke up at our leisure. I wanted him to get as much rest as possible so that he wouldn't be tired from the +15 hour jetlag. He seemed to fare pretty well and woke up in the morning relatively early, so we headed to the Temple of Literature. The Temple of Literature is found on the back of the 100,000 Vietnamese Dong  banknote. It was Vietnam's first national university circa 1070, as well as a temple of Confucius. 


Golden Rock Meditations, Kyaiktiyo Myanmar

Published in Temple

I took the first day at Camp Kinpun with ease while awaiting the pilgrimage up the mountain to the the Kyaiktiyo Golden Rock. I arrived at 4pm, check into a nearby hotel, and so I wander aimlessly through the town. They call it a camp because it's a small village made with straw huts, nat temples, small shops, etc; although, it isn't meant to be a permanent establishment but serve the purposes of pilgrims.  There are several people selling Myanmar "sandalwood" which is actually thanaka. The wood is beautiful smelling so I buy a mala and a few blocks of it. There are also vendors selling foods, bamboo toy guns with a clever crank handle. The "candy stores" were incredible, selling dried fruits, many of which were candied;  durian paste, dates, marion berries, and coconut candies. There is a nice amount of commercialization for local crafts and clothes near the rock. I decide to buy some candles and incense to offer to the golden rock, which costs me about 0.50c.

The next morning, I woke up at sunrise and the Burmese foods in my stomach sat heavily. The cooking here uses a lot of oil, and even salads are covered with oil; pennywort salad, fermented tea leaf salad, and vegetable fried rice. I noticed it immediately, but  I didn't want it to hold me back from the early morning rise I was anticipating. The bus station is full of ready pilgrims at 5:30am. It seems that I'm rather late, as the platforms have all completely filled up of people wanting to get to the rock early. Apparently, there already was a run of shuttles around 4:30am. When the trucks do arrive to the platforms they instantly fill up with people. I get invited a seat in the front of one of the trucks by a nice lady; although, sitting in the back would have been cheaper and allowed a better view of the area and the sunrise.  After I arrived to Golden Rock I climbed the steps towards the top, and looked out over the view of the countryside which is vast hills covered with golden pagodas. With a large horde of people I walk to get to the main area of the Golden Rock. There are other options such as a hand raised palanquin where two men will carry you up the stairs. Once there the colorful Burmese music including gongs, drums, and xylophones, is blaring from the sound system. The music creates a carnival atmosphere where I'd expect everyone to be dancing.  Families wearing traditional clothes elatedly wander the grounds. 


The moment I approach the Golden rock, there are informational signs about the story of the rock, and I feel so alienated as a foreigner here. I had huge self doubt and insecurity about coming here, and what I was doing there at "their" spiritual place. Would I feel some connection to this place? I try to think of how the rock (a representation of an ascetics head hanging on the edge of the cliff by a thread of Buddha's hair) is significant to me, but no thinking would help me rationalize the trip. The second thing I think is, why are only men allowed to put gold leaf on the rock. I become annoyed and go and sit where the women are praying, and think of how I can be more connected here despite the obvious hierarchy that men are somehow able to be closer to God because they are men. I find it strange that in most respects Myanmmar women enjoy equality where they own property and can hold any job they choose. Even female babies are as celebrated and equally as educated as the sons. Although for some reason men have a special potential to become a Buddha, whereas women do not have this ability. I find a few places to simply observe and watch the other pilgrims make their offerings so I can find out what kind of offerings the Golden Rock prefers.


I have been doing meditation at home staring  at candles. I take the candles and incense over to the rock and begin the offerings. A gust of wind picked up all the small pieces of paper felt over from the gold leaf and blew them into a little tornado.  At first, I thought to do prostrations, bowing to the rock, but I simply wind up in a yoga baby pose. I came here to make the offerings at 11 or 12 when the sun was hottest in the sky. The Golden rock is brightly glowing. After having some water I light the candles.  Having woken up at 5am to catch the shuttle, the weight of my body and head sank down into the earth. It cleansed so much energy to rest there doing meditation. My process started to clarify my purpose for arrival. In my meditation, a golden light filled my mind, and I was dwarfed by the potency of the Golden rock. At times, I felt like a spirit was trapped inside or that it needed cosmic craniosacral therapy to release it's position, lol. The face of the rock revealed itself, a shifting face within the rock morphing and playing with me. I think of the ascetic whose head is on the mountain keeping Lord Buddha's hair teetering on the edge. What is the hair? The balance? The void between falling and not falling? Suffering and happiness? The earth based Buddhist culture at the Golden rock is interesting. It's not a Buddha statue, or a temple; it's a huge rock covered in gold that represents an ascetics head.   


I decide to have lunch and head back to camp. I enjoy three different types of salad; medicine salad, fermented tea leaf salad, regular salad, along with an avocado smoothie. I traveled down a trail thinking it was the way to Kinpun camp where my hotel was, or maybe to a cave nearby. Then, it went downhill to more pagodas, which were mostly nat temples, I.e. Temples for worship of a set of 37 animistic Gods that are worshipped in Myanmar.  The medicine stands were selling their home made medicine oil, which I used to massage my legs wth. Unfortunately, several of these stands had illegal wildlife parts, tigers, elephants, woods, hornbills, eagles. On accident, by not knowing where I was going I ended up continuing down the mountain to the valley. It was dark jungle, silent. The perfect contrast and balance to the golden morning I had. Then, not knowing how far off I had gone I realized my mistake and soaked in the dark energy of the solitude of the valley only to climb the mountain back up again. I climbed as quickly as possible to get back in time to catch the shuttle to camp. 




Zhangye Buddhist Temple: The Birth of Kublai Khan

Published in China

Zhangye, at first glance is an average Chinese city in Gansu province filled with clothing shops, and few restaurants, or cafes. After walking around here I was curious if there was anything other than consumer culture going on here.  I came here to work with a team of natural resources professionals in China for a snow leopard conservation meeting.  When two of the ladies on the research team I work with told me about a monastery, in my mind I thought of a Buddhist nunnery, and was expecting some old fashioned, boring place. My imagination is very vivid, but when they said monastery I thought of an actual dusty, old, and boring Buddhist complex filled with elderly monks and nuns. 

Apparently they had not been inside yet. Inevitably, what I had come to find was even older temple, the Zhangye Buddha temple, exists there, which was initiated in 1098 and originally called the Kasyapa Tathagata Temple. It holds the largest indoor clay sculpted sleeping Buddha with a wood core in Asia.  Within the main part of the city is the birthplace of Kublia Khan (1215-1294), founder of the Yuan dynasty. This Buddha statue is Sakyamui Buddha, There are over 10,000 cultural relics within several museums on site, and most protected site of the Hsi Hsia Imperial family.

Kublai’s mother Sorghaghtani Beki, who birthed Kublai Khan at the Sleeping Buddha temple, was also a prominent figure in the 13th century, and was a renowned woman of the Mongols. She herself was a Nestorian Christian, but she taught and patronized a variety of foreign religions.  Kublai Khan also was known to assist the Christians and support Muslims, as well as give philosophical discourse on the variety of religions. 

In The Travels of Marco Polo, there is an extensive section on Kublai Khan, who Marco Polo met in 1298, when Kublai Khan was 85 years old, and had served as the emperor of China there for 42 years.   At that time, he was the first non-Chinese Emperor to conquer all of China. He glorifies Kublai as “great Khan of Tartars”, “lord of lords,” and fully describes a civil war with his uncle Nayan Khan, who was a Nestorian Christian. Nayan lost this battle, and Marco Polo describes Kublai Khan’s appreciation of the Christian faith, by ordering Christians to attend him with the four gospels, perfuming it with incense, and ordering the nobels present to do the same. He practiced this during Christmas and Easter. He honored four great prophets, the Christ, Mohammed, Moses, and Sogomombar Khan.  Marco Polo describes his behavior towards the Christians “that he believed their faith to be the best and truest” Although not proclaiming himself to be a Christian he wrote a letter to the Pope in which he contrasts the idolaters and Christians, giving his interpretation of if he was converted to be a Christian or an idolater what would people say. The Tartars at this time were Mongol and Turkic elements, worshipping tablets and various earth gods. 




The Temple of Confucius and Imperial Academy Beijing

Published in Temple

Among all the Confucian temples, four in Qufu, Beijing, Rehe, and Shengjing are most prominent throughout history because the Qing emperors would offer funerary rites in honor of Confucius and his followers twice a year. In the late Qing dynasty, 1560 Confucian temples were known to exist in China, with one being placed in nearly every government school (Yu, 2007). Knowing this deep history of Confucianism in China, I wanted to see for myself how the Imperial Academy and Confucius temple looked, and what kind of interesting features it might have.

The first time I had come to the streets surrounding the Confucius temple was to visit the impressive Lama Temple. There was a side street Guozijian, that I had had ventured down, but never taken much interest in. Usually taking other side streets through the other hutongs and wandering to see the various restaurants and boutique clothing shops.  I also walked the streets lined with Buddhist paraphernalia, smelling the incense and hearing the Amitabha mantras being broadcast proudly from several of the shops. There are many Thankga painters sitting in the shops painting magnificent Buddhist paintings, and shops selling jewelry and other fine arts.

Now, nearly four years later, having studied Chinese philosophy for the entire Spring semester, I’m finally ready to enter the complex. The entire complex is split in half with the Temple of Confucius on one side and the Imperial Academy on the other. The Temple of Confucius, Beijing was initially built in 1302, with a total of 22,000 square meters, it is the second largest temple constructed for Confucius. The Imperial Academy, Beijing, or Beijing GuoziJian (北京国子监) was built in 1306, by the grandson of Kubilai Khan, and was the supreme academy during the Yuan(1271-1368), Ming(1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) dynasties. It covers 37,000 sq meters. Emperors in imperial China would visit the academy and read Confucian books.

Upon entering the complex, I am greeted by a large statue of Confucius. I stand there for several minutes watching how people might react to such an effigy. He is standing with his hands crossed in front of him, and I notice many visitors standing on his side imitating this posture, and others stand before him with their heads bowed in order to give him respect. Many of the people honor this statue of him and seem to have a deep connection either with the spiritual world of Confucius or the philosophical world, both of which seem intertwined.

There are many myths about Confucius’s birth. On the night before Confucius was born, two dragons appeared on the roof; deities hovered in the sky and celestial musicians celebrated on the day of his birth. In addition to forty-nine distinguishing marks on the newborn’s body, his chest bore five characters that announced “Talisman of the one created to stabilized the world”. Then, as an adult, Confucius displayed expertise in identifying ancient relicts and interpreting mystical and magical occurences (Murray, 2009).  His body is said to have forty-nine unusual features, which surpasses that of other deities such as thirty marks of Buddha Sakyamuni’s body (Murray, 2009). So he is seen as being an otherworldly being with qualities being more magnificent than a deity in other religious traditions, such as Buddhism.

The cult following of Confucius, and the moral ethical system which he advocated, differs from the religious expressions of China, like Taoism and Buddhism. One similarity is that there are iconic images of him that played a role in receiving sacrificial offerings, and were a standard feature of state temples, like the one in Beijing. These images have varied throughout history according to his rank and status given by the kings of different eras, such as duke, King of Propagating Culture, etc. The status and rank he was given then specified his iconic ornamentation, clothing, and head gear, as well as the number of vessels, music and dancers to be used in the sacrifices. Some later rulers wanted to elevate Confucius beyond the rank of a king to emperor, such as Zhenzong of the Song dynasty, but was opposed and unable to offer the highest level of stat sacrifice that only the ruler could offer. This same emperor tried to change the words of his title to Dark Sage, or Ultimate Sage, for which there was a change in the icongraphy perhaps like in Pingyao where there is a black faced ferocious icon. Other emperors such as the Jin Empoeror Sizong, changed the emblems on the robe from nine to twelve, and the Song emperor Huizong had nine strings of jade increased to twelve. These changes upgraded the visual appearance of the icon from a king to an emperor. Other Ming dynasty emperors increased the number of vessels and dancers in the sacrifices without changing his title. (Murray, 2009).

His ordinary life was not injected with so much grandeur, as his upbringing seems quite humble in origins, and his dedication to becoming a teacher was realized later in life. Confucius belonged to a scribal section of the service class, and served as a keeper of cultural traditions found within the state archival documents.  He was a member of a shih family and spent most of his upbringing in poverty. He was forced into managerial and accounting jobs at a young age, and remained unsatisfied professionally and likely never achieved a very high position in his career. He became a philosophical teacher, and transmitter of the Tao, which established him in the history of Chinese civilization. He became a teacher separate from the political order and conveyed his visions directly to his students. His philosophy constitutes much of the “essence” of Chinese culture and his doctrines went on to become the “official philosophy of China.” (Schwartz, 1985)

Confucius advocated for a system of religious which were patterns of behavior that involved ceremonies, manners and general behaviors for the different roles one plays within the family, and all of human society ordered by hierarchical status, rank and position, as well as the heavenly realms. The definition of Li (ritual) is applied not only religious rituals and ancestors, but also living members of one’s family. Through the concrete acts of li one can cultivate an inner heart culture as well as proper behavior in family life, society and government. Jen is defined as the inner moral life of an individual that includes a capacity for self-awareness and reflection, including a submission to li (Schwartz, 1985). Cultivating a virtuous life of Jen is realized through education and training. Confucius believes in educating young disciples according to their desire for education and interest in the topics, and that a proper inner disposition must be there before Confucius can be of any service as a master and teacher. Li and learning are linked together, then jen can be attained and realized in it’s highest form of personal ideal and excellence. (Schwartz, 1985)

The first large statue in the Confucius temple is only one of many images that I will encounter through my journey in the complex. It is considered a temple in the traditional sense, and a temple is a place for worship and sacrifice, so seeing how this is constructed for Confucius I will notice the similarities and differences. Since the complex has over 700 years of history, there are many different objects and images to be discussed.

To the left and right of the Confucius statues are many tortoise steles (bixi) erected in rows up and down the corridor. These are large stone slabs that sit on the back of a tortoise and sitting under a pavilion. The top of the stele is carved with a dragon, said to be one of the nine sons of the Dragon King. Similar steles are found throughout temple complexes for Taoism and Buddhism as well, and serve as important cultural relics sharing information about historical events and calligraphic arts. In addition to the stele in this front courtyard, there are 198 stone tablets contain the names of more than 51,624 jinshi’s (advanced scholars) of the Yuan, Ming and Qing dynasties. They had passed the imperial examnation, which was the civil service exam to select candidates for the state bureaucracy. The test was based on knowledge of classics and literary style. The exam was an important part of Chinese culture and helped to give structure to the intellectual and cultural life. By the Ming Dynasty, the highest degree of jinshi became the highest office, which was much higher than the shengyuan degree that was the initial degree, and required law, math, calligraphy, equestrianism, and archery, in addition to the Confucian classics. By 1370, the examination lasted between 24 and 72 hours and were conducted in spare, isolated examination rooms, or rooms with small cubicles. Students identified themselves by number and tests were recopied by a third person so to prevent the handwriting from being recognized. This system is the root of the National Examination that is in place today, where there are students selected from the college examination system to come to a school like Tsinghua, where only 5000 students per year are chosen out of the millions of students that take the exam annually.

After walking around in that courtyard for some time, then I entered through the first gate inside of the complex, the Gate of Great Accomplishment. Housed within this gate are several large stele with Emperor Qianlong’s handwriting on the top, as well as bells, and then there are ten stone drums  The ten stone drums were thought to commemorate a military victory by King Xuan of Zhou. Qianlong wrote a poem that the number of stone drums corresponds to the ten heavenly stems; these stone drums are exceptional ritual objects that have lasted for thousands of years,”(石鼓之數符天干, 千秋法物世已少) (Yu, 2007). The stone drums are replicas of the Western Zhou dynasty, and the inscriptions on the top were recreated by the order of Emperor Qianlong.

After walking through the first gate there are small individual pavilions to the left and right hand side to house 14 important stele. The inscriptions found on these stele are often military stories, and were gifted by various rulers. Manchu rulers installed “gaocheng” stone steles with recounts of the military victories in the Guozijian’s Confucian temple. In 1704, the Kangxi emperor installed his first stele at the Guozijian. Emperor Qianlong erected four steles, all inscribed with texts in both Manchu and Chinese. In this way the Confucian temple became a monument for Manchu imperialism and not only a temple grounds for sages (Yu, 2007). Each stele has a small placard that describes where the stele came from, and whom it was gifted by and when.

There is a large glazed archway, the second gate, that was built in 1783. It was three portals, five, pillars and a roof in Wudianding style. It is covered by yellow glazed tiles, and one tablet has inscriptions written by Emperor Qianlong.

There are cypress trees which line the walkways and planted adjacent to the pavilions. It’s a very beautiful contrast between the red paint and green cypress trees. Walking towards the Confucian temple then I see there is a 700 year old tree named Chujian Bai (Touch Evil Cypress), and legend tells that during the Ming Dynasty a nefarious official named Yan Song passed by the cypress and it took his hat off, and therefor became known for distinguishing good from evil.

Climbing the steps to the Hall of Great Accomplishment, the Confucian temple, I walk past a large stone slab with dragons carved into it. I approach the building and which in appearance is very similar to the Buddhist and Taoist temples that I have visited all around China. The colors and themes are all very similar. When I walked inside, I noticed that there were no statues of Confucian within the, but there are wooden tablets with various calligraphies said to represent him and his students. The wooden tablets were surrounded by sacrificial vessels, and marble animals. New-Confucian ritualists rejected the use of icons in Confucius temples because the classical texts did not include deity worship in the sacrificial rites, and including imagery and icons would alter the character of the sacrifice and change the way that Confucius himself had realized the rituals to be performed. Kong writers stood up for the images, carefully documenting and preserving accounts of the lineage’s images of Confucius throughout the late Zhou to early Han, in order to prove the defense of icons. Then in 1392, Ming founding emperor Taizu, built a new temple for Confucius in Nanjing and ordered images to be removed and replaced by wooden tablets with the names and titles of Confucius. After that the Yongle Emperor allowed for refurbishing of the icons in the imperial academy’s Confucian temple. (Murray, 2009). Today, they want to emphasize this history by using wooden tablets. There are several informational displays with small drawings of Confucius and his students, and no other statues or paintings.

Also within the hall were many of the traditional instruments used for playing music, such as guqin, guzheng, and drums, and bells. Qianlong also used Zhou bronzes as sacrificial offerings on display on the central altars in the Confucian temples. Dacheng Dian 大成殿 (Hall of Great Achievements) during the shidian sacrificial ceremony, Qianlong offered the bronzes to Confucius. Mentioned in the edict were a ding-caldron (), an yi-bowl (), an animal-shaped zun-vase (犧尊), a you- bucket (), a lei-jar(), a hu-vase (), a fu- bowl (), a gui-bowl (), a gu-cup (), a jue-cup (), a xi-washbowl (), and a dragon-spoon (龍勺). The emperor transformed the collectible antiquities into the ritual objects displayed on the altars of shidian ceremonies. In a sense, the group of Zhou bronzes was more like sacrificial offerings placed on an altar, rather than ritual vessels to hold food and drink offered to Confucius. Today the ten bronzes that Qianlong bestowed upon the Confucian temple at the Guozijian are in the National Palace Museum, Taipei. Modern scholars believe that only three of these ten bronzes were cast in the Zhou. They assign one to the Shang and one to the Han, asserting that five others were later copies(Yu, 2007).

Imperial religion involved a cult of gods and spirits listed in the Rites of Zhou. They were serviced by officers of the court and bureaucracy and sanctioned by the Confucian canon. The court condoned specific worship at local temples according to the title of the deity. The Rites of Zhou describes five types of ritual such as capping and marriage, mourning and burial of the dead, which were common to all people. Other rites involved the royal court and social nobility such as the military rites, which brought military personnel together, and guest rituals, which the king used to interact with court nobles and lords. Finally, the auspicious rites, defined man’s relationship to the gods and spirits through sacrifice. (Wilson, 2002).

Emperor Qianlong renovated the Confucian temple in 1768, and donated Zhou bronzes, ten stone drums, and stone steles of the Thirteen classics. During the time of the renovation it was suggested to build a Biyong hall for imperial lectures as found in the ancient rites of the Zhou, and he agreed nine years later. He did this to remind Chinese subjects to honor Machu civilization preserving the traditions of the ancient Zhou (Yu, 2007).  The hall is built on a square platform, surrounded by a circular mote, which is reminiscent of ancient beliefs that earth was square and heaven was round. The hall is 17.7 meters in length and width. Entering the hall, I saw the throne and armchair used by previous Emperor’s who came here to give class, there is a geometrical ceiling which is quite mesmerizing. In addition to the hall there are 33 rooms on the east and west sides of the hall. The colors of the temple are mostly a dark red, dark yellow, and black, and I found the outside of the building to be very different in terms of colors and ornamentation from other Buddhist and Taoist temples that I had visited. It is reminiscent of other unique buildings dedicated to the Emperor, such as the Forbidden City or the Temple of Heaven, but the armchair and throne were unique and bright.

After walking through the music hall, I arrive to the final hall of the journey. I walk into one large room and notice rows and rows of stone tablets. The calligrapher Jiang Heng (1672-1742) spent twelve years transcribing the entire Thirteen Classics of over 630,000 characters onto paper, and his work was recognized by Qianlong. He ordered to have the text etched into 190 stone steles and installed in the courtyard of the Guozijian(Yu, 2007). The Book of Changes, Book of History, Book of Songs, Spring and Autumn Annals, the Analects, Mencius, and other Confucian Classics. The hall is filled with long rows of stone tablets, which I walk through.

My impressions of Confucianism were expanded through my visit to the complex. It has amazing history, and I was excited to be able to visit it.


Murray, J (2009) “Idols” in the Temple: Icons and the Cult of Confucius. Journal of Asian Studies. 271-411.

Schwartz, B (1985) The World of Thought in Ancient China. Harvard College.

Wilson (2002) Sacrifice and the Imperial Cult of Confucius. History of Religions. The University of Chicago Press. 41:3, 251-287.

Yu, H (2007) The Intersection of Past and Present: The Aianlong Emperor and His Ancient Bronzes. Dissertation. Princeton University.


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