Solemnity marks shrine of worship and education

The Confucian Temple in Shanghai's city center, originally founded during the Yuan Dynasty, is a complex of gardens and buildings rich in history.
Wang Rongjiang / SHINE

Confucius (551-479 BC) is widely considered as one of the most influential individuals in the world.

The Confucian Temple in Shanghai’s city center is a complex of gardens and buildings rich in history.

It was originally founded during the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368), serving as a site for both religious worship and premier education. From 1851 to 1855, it was occupied by the Small Swords Society, a paramilitary organization active during the Taiping Rebellion (1850-64). It was almost destroyed when government troops retook the site.

The temple site was subsequently relocated to Wenmiao Road and underwent multiple renovations over the years. It was badly damaged again during the “cultural revolution” (1966-76). Its last facelift in 1999 commemorated the 2,550th birthday of Confucius. Five years later, it was declared a cultural heritage site.

The temple is similar in style to the original temple of Confucius in his hometown Qufu, Shandong Province. It has three courtyards: The first comprises Kuixing Pagoda, Confucian Study Hall and Tianguang Yunying Pond. Through Study Gate is the second courtyard, which holds Etiquette Gate, Minglun Hall, which serves as a classroom, and Zunjing Pavilion for storing scriptures. The third courtyard, in the central area, consists of a carved stone arch called Lingxing Gate, Dacheng Gate, Dacheng Hall, Wenchang Pavilion, a large bell, a statue of Confucius and an ancestral temple.

“Confucian temples were always built with education in mind,” said Liu Xu, director of the Shanghai Wenmiao Management Department.

“When I was a child, my friends and I often climbed up on the lions at the front gate of the temple, and no one seemed to care,” said Wang Jialiang, my guide. “That wouldn’t be allowed today.”

Solemn Dacheng Hall is the main hall to worship Confucius. There is a bell weighing 1.5 tons in the southeast of the hall and a carved painting depicting 24 carriages in a line for a Confucian journey. In front of the main door of the hall is a bronze statue of Confucius, holding a sword.

Wang Rongjiang / SHINE

Dacheng Hall is the main hall where people come pay homage to the great Chinese philosopher.

Wang Rongjiang / SHINE

Inside the hall, a gilded statue of Confucius sits in the middle, flanked by traditional Chinese instruments. From a beam hang three tablets inscribed by Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) emperors, and two of the other walls hold stone carvings of “Analects.”

The giant bell is a favorite of visitors and central to the lives of many local residents.

“My parents spent 20 yuan to strike the bell the day before my university entrance examination in 1998,” Wang said.

Although the bell can’t be struck today, supplicants can hang “wish cards” on shelves and on trees outside, seeking blessings or favors. Many of them are addressed to “dear sage Confucius.”

Staff at the temple complex speak multiple languages, which is a help given the large number of foreign visitors. One German visitor said he was drawn to the temple by its tranquility.

In keeping with the Confucian emphasis on education, there is academy on the temple grounds. Minglun Hall functions as a lecture hall. The acoustics allowed ancient students to clearly hear the words of instructors, Wang said.

Many nearby schools hold activities in the temple, such as the coming-of-age ceremony and classes in ancient Chinese civilization.

Wang Rongjiang / SHINE

The Zunjing Pavilion contains over 6,300 books about Confucianism and became Shanghai’s first national library in 1931.

The tallest building in the temple is the three-story Kuixing Pagoda, built in 1855. The hexagonal building is constructed on six pillars, and from its top people once had a panoramic view of the city.

The temple gardens provide solitude for contemplation. There, visitors find Tingyu Hall, or “hall of listening to the rain,” Tianguang Yunying Pond and a 300-year-old elm tree.

The Confucian Temple is famous for its Sunday secondhand book market, which began in 1986. It costs 1 yuan to enter and attracts many book collectors and browsing older residents.

Shanghai Confucian Temple

Address: 215 Wenmiao Rd

Opening hours: 9am-5pm (7:30am-5pm on Sundays)

Entry fee: 10 yuan, with discounts for students and the elderly

Wang Rongjiang / SHINE

The three-story Kuixing Pagoda, built in 1855, is the tallest structure in the temple.

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