Chen Xiaoxia: What is the influence of Confucian Temples and Confucianism over eastern and western civilizations?

From:chinakongziAuthor: 2021-10-18 09:45

Confucius was a great thinker and educator in China, and founder of Confucianism. He was honored as a sage, the most revered teacher, and the teacher of all ages by the later world. The Confucian temples all over the world are ritual buildings dedicated to Confucius. Confucianism they reflect has had a profound impact on host countries.

Confucian temples in China and Confucian thoughts they reflect

The world's first Confucian temple was built in Queli of Qufu, the hometown of Confucius. According to Historical Records • Confucius Family, "later generations stored Confucius' clothes, hats, and books in the former residence of Confucius." After Confucius died, his former residence was changed to a sacrificial temple. In October of the twelfth year of the Han Emperor Gaozu (195 BC), Liu Bang made a special trip to the Confucian temple to offer sacrifices to Confucius, making him the first emperor to offer sacrifices to Confucius. Emperor Wu of the Han Dynasty abolished all other schools of thought and only respected Confucianism. Confucianism became the guiding ideology of the country, and Confucius was enshrined in a national school. Since then, various dynasties have continued to expand Confucian temples. By the time of the Qing Dynasty, there were more than 1,740 Confucian temples at all levels in China, including imperial college and provincial, prefecture, city, county and village levels of schools, which became the most widely distributed national temple.

The architectural form of the Confucian temple embodies such Confucian thoughts as the "ritual system", "the Golden Mean", "Great Harmony", and "Harmony between Man and Nature". Confucius believed that society is balanced in a certain hierarchical order, and social harmony rests in the fact that etiquette systems are used to restrain people's behavior. In the architectural form of the Confucian temple, the main building, the outbuildings, the monuments to dismount the horse on both sides of the temple, the strict ranking of the worshippers, a large number of ritual and sacrificial vessels, and the different specifications of the Dacheng Hall fully reflect the requirement of ritual system. The symmetry between the Depei Tiandifang and Daoguan Gujinfang, and the symmetry of Limen and Yilu fully embodies "the Golden Mean" of impartiality and the idea of "universal peace". Confucianism advocates "the unity of nature and man" and pursues the harmonious coexistence of "man-architecture-natural environment". The Confucian temple appropriately uses the traditional courtyard combination and environment layout methods, becoming an important vehicle for expressing philosophy and enlightening wisdom. People tend to be touched by the environment of Confucian temples, which helps to understand the philosophy of the sage. 

Most of Confucian temples in China were built within cities, usually in the southeast, east or northeast corner and most beside the south gate or east gate of the city. There are four types of layout: temple in front and classrooms behind, temple on the left and classrooms on the right, temple on the right and classrooms on the left, and the separation of temple and classrooms. It usually includes the area in front of Dacheng gate, the yard of Dacheng Hall and the Chongsheng Temple. Temples offering sacrifices to Confucius were included in national sacrificial ceremonies and there were universal standards as to who should offer what kind of sacrifices.

Confucian temples in Asian countries and Confucian thoughts they reflect

Confucian temples were first built in foreign countries in the Han Dynasty, mainly on the Korean Peninsula and Vietnam. In June of the year 372, the first imperial college was established on the Korean Peninsula, following the example of China to set up highest level of institute for learning, integrating temples and classrooms. A  Confucian temple was built in Seoul in 1398. In 717, statues of Confucius and his disciples were put in imperial college and the thought of Confucius were spread to Korean Peninsula, which gradually became the mainstream thought of the society. It is recorded that there are 362 Confucian temples in the history of the Korean Peninsula. Most of the Confucian temples in DPRK were built on hills outside the city while only a minority within cities.

The Confucian temple in Vietnam was generally built inside the city, and some were also built outside the city. According to historical records of Vietnam, in the year 1070, the first Confucian temple after independence was built in which statues of Confucius and Zhou Gong were erected and paintings of seventy-two disciples of Confucius were put up to be worshiped around the year.. In 1076, the emperor built the Imperial College and Confucian temple in Hanoi to offer sacrifices to Confucius. After the Confucian temple came into Vietnam, it was quickly spread across the country. According to statistics, there were more than 160 Confucian temples in Vietnam's history.

During the Sui and Tang Dynasties, the Confucian temple spread to Japan. During the Western and Eastern Han dynasties, the Confucian classic The Analects of Confucius was spread to Japan with far-reaching influence. Japan began offering sacrifices to Confucius in the year 701, and included it in the national sacrificial ceremonies. Following the ritual system of the Tang Dynasty, sacrifices were offered in the name of the emperor. At the ceremony, sacrifices were offered for three times by different people. During the Edo period, the Tokugawa Shogunate regarded Confucianism as a holy religion, and Confucian temples were widely established in the school. According to statistics, there were more than 100 Confucian temples in the history of Japan. Under the strong support of the rulers, Japan formed a social atmosphere in which everyone learned Confucianism. According to historical records of Japan, it was stated clearly in relevant regulations that imperial colleges and state schools should offer sacrifices to Confucius in the second month of spring and autumn every year. Some of the Confucian temples in Japan were built inside the city, but most were built outside the city.

From the beginning of the 15th century, with Zheng He's several voyages to the West and China's lift of bans on foreign trade, people from the south went to Southeast Asia to earn a living. Confucian temples and other buildings began to spread to more Southeast Asian countries, which had a positive impact over the development of local culture. In 1899, the Indonesian Chinese started to offer sacrifices to Confucius in Chinese schools. The Indonesian Confucian Association had more than 100 branches across the country with more than 100 buildings to offer sacrifices to Confucius. In 1819, the Malacca Sambao Temple Academy was established in Penang, Malaysia. Since then, there have been Confucian organizations and Confucian temples and other buildings dedicated to Confucius in almost all major cities. A Confucian association was established in 1914 in Singapore to promote and revitalize the Confucian education moral principles and culture, preserve the peace among nations, and support various academic activities and charitable deeds.

Confucian temples in Europe and America and Confucian thoughts they reflect

The Confucian temple spread to European and American countries in the 16th century. The Italian missionary Matteo Ricci (1552-1610) first introduced Chinese thought and Confucian culture to Europe. Holbach (1723-1789) praised Confucius’ political views of governing the country by virtue. The Physiocratic leader Quesnay (1694-1774) praised Confucius' stress on agricultural development, and the Enlightenment thinker Voltaire (1694-1778) believed China’s politics, philosophy, ethics, and science were perfect. He said: “It’s really unfortunate that we can’t be like the Chinese.” He advocated that France should also use Confucianism to govern the country. In the 19th century, British missionary Legge spent many years in China. He spent more than 20 years translating the Four Books, Zhouyi, Shangshu, the Book of Songs, the Book of Rites, and Zuo Zhuan into English. He believed that Confucius was the preserver of ancient writings and deeds, the annotator and interpreter of the maxims of the golden age of China...representing the most beautiful ideals of mankind with the best and the most lofty status. Britain built the first and only Confucian temple in Europe by the Duke of Kent.

In the early 1990s, Germany erected a bronze statue of Confucius in a Chinatown near Cologne. At the end of the 19th century, the German missionary Ernst Faber believed that some ethical concepts in Confucianism could resonate with "the doctrine of Jesus", so he combined the ethical concepts of benevolence, righteousness, courtesy, wisdom, and faith with Christianity in his preaching. In the 19th century, the Confucian temple spread to the United States. Gilbert Reid, an American missionary who came to China in 1883, praised Confucianism as the foundation of educating the people. He said that Confucianism had everlasting significance and fit in all times and all counties. In 1965, a Confucian temple was built in Sacramento, the capital of California. Since the 1970s, statues of Confucius have been erected in New York, Los Angeles, Honolulu and other places. In 1982, San Francisco initiated Confucius birthday celebrations for the first time. Since then, Confucius birthday celebrations have been held every year. The ceremony attracted many Chinese and American government officials to participate.

The German missionary Richard Wilhelm (1873-1930) compared Confucian thought with Western thought and believed that Confucian thought has many advantages. He gave a lecture at the opening of a Confucius university titled "Confucianism can bring great harmony". In the speech, he said that the so-called economics and sociology had certain demerit compared with Confucianism. The Western countries only knew about patriotism, with no emphasis on families and the entire world. Confucianism can make up for it. He said that Confucianism could bring great harmony as it regarded all schools of thought as equals, kept progress with the times and constantly revealed the values of its teachings. The American missionary Samuel Wells Williams wrote in a book: "Compared with the precepts of Greek and Roman philosophers, Confucius' writings have a sound general purpose. Its relevance to the society and practical significance enable Confucianism to excel western philosophy. 

The Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen in France also cited Confucius’s maxim as the moral limit of freedom: "Freedom refers to all people’s right to do everything that does not harm the rights of others. Its principles are nature, its rules are justice, and its guarantee is the law, and its moral limit lies in the following: Do not do to others what you do not want to be done to you."

According to Yang Huanying’s book The Spread and Influence of Confucian Thoughts Abroad, US Secretary of State Steinius said in a radio broadcast in 1945: "To promote world peace in the future should draw experience from the last time. The only way is to promote mankind's morality and spread the principles of benevolence which must follow the teachings of Confucius." Many countries have been deeply influenced by Confucianism in history, and many contemporary countries have also integrated the Confucian thoughts into their own national development. As an important vehicle for the spread of Confucianism, the Confucian temple has had a positive and far-reaching influence on the development of civilizations in some countries in East Asia and Southeast Asia and Western thinkers.

Confucianism is not only an important part of Chinese traditional culture, but also a treasure of world culture. In 1988, many Nobel Prize winners gathered in Paris, France. Some scholars pointed out that for human beings to survive in the 21st century, they must look back at 2,500 years ago and seek wisdom from Confucius. The wisdom that Confucius left to future generations will help solve various problems facing human society today. It belongs not only to China, but also to all mankind.


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