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Confucius Temples form cultural landmarks in Yunnan

Updated:2020-06-08 16:41:37   Yunnan Tourism Culture Times

Confucius Temples have been built across China to commemorate Confucius (or Kongzi in Mandarin), one of the greatest thinkers and philosophers in the country. According to Cai Zhengfa, the associate editor of “Yunnan Wenmiao Yicun” (An Investigation to Confucius Temples in Yunnan), the very first Confucius Temple in the province can be dated back to 1274, which was over seven centuries ago.

It is believed that Confucius Temples in Yunnan began to flourish in the Qing Dynasty (1636-1912), following the rapid economic development of this province. Till the mid-19th century, as many as 80 Confucius Temples had been built up as local schools. “That was indeed an acme for the veneration of Confucius and his thoughts in Yunnan,” said Mr. Cai.

As Keju, the imperial examinations of ancient China, was abolished in the year of 1905, almost all Confucius Temples across Yunnan have been transformed into schools in modern sense. Take the one in Jianshui for instance, it had been used as the campus for the First Middle School of Jianshui until the 1960s.

Today, new roles have been given to Yunnan’s Confucius Temples that can be found in dozens of cities and counties. As important historical and cultural sites, they are evoking the interest of more and more tourists. 

Yunnan’s Largest Confucius Temple

Every morning around 8 o’clock, Zhu Zhigang, a native of Jianshui, would bring his erhu (a traditional bowed musical instrument of China) and tape recorder to a small pond at the Jianshui Confucius Temple. As far as he remembers, the temple is the same as it looked decades ago when he was a child.“I can’t tell any difference, except for those new buildings appearing around it,” said he. 

After 9 am., the temple gradually gets crowded, as dozens of local residents begin to take walks in the Confucius Temple. In their eyes, this is an ideal venue for them to do morning exercises. In one pavilion near the pond, a folk band made up of elderly people plays the flutes, Erhu and some other instruments every day until 11 o’clock when they start to head back home for lunch. And in the afternoon, many of them would return to the temple, chatting with each other or enjoying the time of their own. “The Confucius Temple is undoubtedly the best leisure place in Jianshui,” Zhu Zhigang told us.

According to Wang Zhimin, a local history and culture expert, the Confucius Temple in Jianshui, which was firstly constructed during the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368), very much resembles the one in Qufu, Shangdong province – the hometown ofConfucius – in terms of its layout. However, because of its nature as a school, a number of annexes have been built up next to the main temple. Wang, in his research, also finds out that the temple differs from its counterparts elsewhere in several ways, and these are reckoned as a consequence of its adaptation to the natural and climatic environment of Yunnan.

After several times of expansion and renovation throughout history, the Jianshui Confucius Temple has now become the largest and most well-preserved Confucius Temple in Yunnan. Since 2015, an annual Confucius Culture Festival has been taking place here, with an aim to remind people of the cultural legacies left by Confucius who lived some 2,500 years ago. And the temple is known as the best place to venerate him across the province.

Confucius Temple: Kunming’s Cultural Landmark

In Kunming, the capital city of Yunnan province, its Confucius Temple – without much surprise – is located right in the bustling city center. Elderly residents who live nearby would get together here every day, practicing singing and dancing, or simply talking to each other under green and dense canopies.

According to a staff member at the Kunming Culture Center, since the Qing Dynasty, government officials have been holding an annual ritual in the temple to commemorate the birth of Confucius. Mr. Wu, an 80-year-old retired chemistry teacher told reporters that he had chances to take part in rituals of such when he was young. “The ritual involved slaughtering an ox and distributing its meat to participants as gifts,” he said. “To me, the Confucius Temple was, and still is a sacred place, because I can see China’s thousand years of civilization from it.”

However, the Kunming Confucius Temple experienced severe damages in the 1960s, and it was not until in the 1990s that a project of restoration was launched. Skilled carpenters were recruited from all around the province to help restore the Confucius Temple, according to a senior staff from the Kunming Cultural Center. And It normally took two weeks for them to make a single carved angle brace – an essential component in China’s traditional wooden architecture. At the end, most participants said they were delighted and honored to be involved in this project which may benefit many generations ahead.

In 2017, the Kunming Confucius Temple was finally reopened to local citizens and tourists after years of restoration. Not only the main temple and gate but a number of annexes had been refurbished or even rebuilt till then. Li Guanghua, a Kunming native, went to visit the Confucius Temple on this same day of reopening. “It looks almost the same as many years ago, “he said.

Last year in 2019, dozens of young children in traditional Han garments of China came together at the Kunming Confucius Temple, reading “Sanzi Jing” (The Three Character Classic) – an ancient text which has been used to teach Confucian values to students for hundreds of years – while showing their respect to Confucius. The Confucius Temple, therefore, has certainly be regarded as a key cultural landmark of the city. 

Tonghai: The Town of Civilization

Tonghai is a 1200-year-old town located in Yuxi city, central Yunnan province. Strolling in the streets, one can see an architectural complex with bright-red facade erecting on one side of the town, and it is - with no doubt- the Tonghai Confucius Temple.

What really distinguishes this Confucius Temple from its counterparts across Yunnanand even China are the four Chinese characters (Liyue Mingbang) being engraved on its wall, which can be translated to “The Town of Civilization”. Zhan Shuangli, a staff from the Tonghai Cultural Industry Office explained to reporters that these characters were written by Zhu Yang, a head of the town during the Qianlong period (1736-1795) of Qing Dynasty. “He gave this particular name to Tonghai, because almost no disputes or conflicts among folks were found during his governance.”

Stepping into the temple, the visitors are greeted by another four Chinese characters (yuanfei yuyue), literally meaning “flying like a bird and swimming like a fish”. If “The Town of Civilization” represents the long and rich history of Tonghai, this metaphor can be surely regarded as a good wish for the future development of it.

Today, one scenic spot that should never be missed by tourists at the Tonghai Confucius Temple is known as the Crescent Pond. In the ancient time, every single student who passed the Imperial Examinations would be asked to walk around this pond with his teacher for celebration. Besides, a tall and well-decorated arch erected near the temple is also major tourist attraction in Tonghai. “Different from other Confucius Temples, this one in Tonghai sits on top of a hill,” said Zhan Shuangli. “It implies that every step of a person matters, since no one can succeed easily.”

When we stepped out of the Tonghai Confucius Temple, it had already been shrouded in darkness. However, its beauty has become something that may never be forgotten by us. 

Writing by Yang Xiujie, Li Xilin and Liu Jiatong Trans-editing by Wang Jingzhong

Keywords:   Confucius Temples Yunnan