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The Temple of Literature

05/07/2019 691 Views


The Temple of Literature, or Confucius Temple, is a very important historical and cultural monument of Hanoi and the country. It is the first Vietnamese university. The plan of this temple is strongly inspired by that of the Confucius temple raised in Kiu Feou Hien in China, the birthplace of the Master, but its dimensions are much more modest, while occupying an area of nearly three hectares, or 350 m long on 70 of width. It comprises five large courtyards, at the bottom of which is the temple dedicated to Confucius. This is one of the rare remains of the royal era that remained today in good condition.

The first university of Vietnam

It was founded in 1075 by King Ly Nhan Tong. It was originally intended for crowned princes, but in the second year it welcomed mandarin sons chosen by the king. Later, she was opened through an entrance exam to a wider social spectrum. This put forward the theoretical possibility of a social rise based on merit.

In the fifth courtyard stood the classrooms divided into 2 buildings, as well as dining rooms and 6 dormitories each comprising 25 rooms with 2 beds. There was also a printing press for solar manuals. At that time, the university and the temple complemented each other closely. Students learned poetry, text commentary and other literary forms. The teaching of the university prepared the students for the royal exam, a compulsory passage to become a learned Mandarin and serve in court, or to have a high position in a province. Those who failed the exam, however, had a role to play in the country's education system. Most of the time, they returned to their village where they became masters.

The system of multi-stage examinations could be spread out over a few months. The first level, called Thi Huong, was a triennial regional review. Those who passed this test came to Hanoi with their mats, brushes and inksticks to participate in Thi Hoi. The candidate had to write a text dealing with the affairs of the state by putting himself in the place of the king, then was asked about ways to solve the problems of the country through his knowledge of the classics and earlier dynasties. Those who successfully passed the tests were awarded the Ph.D. and were invited to participate in the Thi Dinh or Palace Examination. For this test, it was the king himself who asked the questions and read the answers of the candidates. Then he ranked the doctors in 3 groups and awarded special honors to the top 3 in the first group. The new mandarins received a hat and a dress. A banquet was given at the Palace in their honor, a procession was organized for everyone to return triumphantly to his village. They in turn offered a party to the villagers, sometimes on their own money. The number of candidates obtaining a PhD in a year ranged from 3 to 61. The age of the winners was between 16 and 61 years old.

Scholars made various contributions to the country. Some were more virtuous than others, some were only bureaucrats, nevertheless most were very brilliant: mathematicians, philosophers, politicians and finance ministers, officials famous for their fight against corruption and abuse of power . Literature and public service were not really dissociated. Poets also contributed to the country's economic life by importing corn from China, improving silk-weaving techniques, and developing irrigation systems. Most brilliant statesmen were also poets.
Architecture of the Temple of Literature

The temple consists of five consecutive courtyards separated by brick walls. In Buddhism as in Confucianism, the number five plays a special role (see below the "Theory of the Number Five"). A central aisle divides the whole into two symmetrical halves and leads the visitor through the various courtyards to the altar. Each courtyard is connected to the next by a triple door whose walls symbolize a progression on the path of wisdom.
The large portico:

The progression of the visitor through the courtyards of the temple recalls the evolution of Confucian scholars on the path of knowledge. Inscriptions on a stone command visitors and scholars to dismount in respect. The king himself was obliged to dismount, placing knowledge above royalty or any other form of power. The two largest pillars are wearing unicorns, mythical animals that have the ability to distinguish the true from the false, the good from the bad. These animals stand guard and prevent any malevolent individual from entering the temple grounds. The large portico is a two-storey stone construction with a double roof built. It seems under the dynasty "Le later" (17th-18th century) to replace the original wooden door. Friezes on the right, to the left of the door represent a dragon and a tiger. The dragon has an upward movement, figuration of luck, the tiger, symbol of strength and power, descends from the mountains to help humanity.

The first yard: The entrance on the way

Virtue and talent were the keys that allowed to pass from the first to the second court, to advance a little deeper in the doctrine as evidenced by the name of the side doors: "door of the achievement of virtue" for the door right, and "door of talent realization" for the left one. The central door is called the "Great Gate of the Right Mid". Two carps perched on the side doors bow to a bottle of divine nectar, a nectar of Confucianism. They represent students as they learn Mandarin. There was once in the river an arch-shaped rock called the door of the Emperor Vu. The legend tells that the carp that managed to cross this arch despite the violent currents of the third lunar month became dragon (see below the legend of the transformation of the Carp in Dragon). The examination of Mandarinat was called "Emperor's Gate Vu" and the successful candidates were likened to fish.
The second courtyard: The large central courtyard

Pavilion of the Constellation of Literature, built in 1805, some time after the Nguyen dynasty transferred the royal college to Hue. So the pavilion is supposed to illustrate the splendor of the Constellation. The pavilion is rich in complementary symbols of Yin and Yang (see below the Theory of Yang and Yin). It can be considered as the physical expression of the first great cosmic principle - the union of contrasts. So there is the high and the low, the sky and the earth. The brick base of the pavilion is built on a square plan, a symbolic form of the earth. The sky is represented in the wooden structure composing the facades of the upper level in the form of four suns which radiate from their light the four cardinal points. Roof dragons pay tribute to the moon. To cross this door which opens on the higher degree of knowledge, the students must possess, besides the virtue and the talent, a very good literary expression. The small lateral doors called "Crystallization of letters" refers to the depth and feelings contained in the literary expression, and "Magnificence of letters", emphasizes the good expression of ideas, which also lead to the third court .

The third court: The courtyard of the steles

The center is occupied by a square basin (Puit of the clarity of the sky). The well, at the same time that it reflects and shines with the splendor of the constellation of literature, marks the sacred opposites: high-low, water-fire, square and circle. The court contains 82 steles, each corresponding to a single examination. They bear the names of those who obtained the doctorate, as well as the name of their native village. We count on all the steles 1306 names. Today, thirty of the original steles are missing. On either side of the basin, between the two rows of stelae, a small reliquary is intended to burn incense in memory of the laureates. The oldest stele is on the reliquary to the right of the visitor entering.
The fourth court: The court of the Wise
Entrance to this courtyard is through the door of success. The names of the two small side doors refer to the beauty and value of Confucianism, as well as its repercussions in the world: "door of the golden sound" recalls the first chime of the bell, and "jade object" Suggests the last vibration of the gong. It is in the great house of ceremonies that the king made offerings to Confucius and that the scholars came to prostrate themselves. The building rests on two walls and nine pillars. It is crowned by dragons who pay homage to the moon. The altar occupies the central place. On each side of the altar, cranes leaning on turtles represent the union between heaven and earth. Behind the grand house of ceremonies is the sanctuary which contains the statue of Confucius accompanied by his four closest disciples. During the first centuries of existence of the sanctuary, no one except the guardian was allowed to enter this sacred link, not even the king. On either side of the court of the wise two buildings originally built to house the altars of 72 disciples of Confucius now contain galleries of paintings, a museum and the office of the curator. Behind the building on the left were rooms reserved for kings, a kitchen and a room which served as a deposit for ceremonial objects. As before, the court is still used at parties like checkerboard, chess games stand where the play pieces are men.

The fifth court: The children's college of the nation

When the Nguyen Dynasty ascended the throne in 1802, the capital and the royal college were transferred to Hue. The college was then turned into a tomb dedicated to the parents of Confucius. It was destroyed by bombing in 1947 and rebuilt recently.

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