Tuesday, March 27, 2007

The Temple of Literature - Van Mieu

The Temple of Literature is Vietnam's historical seat of learning and is the most sacred place for the disciples of Confucius. It is one of the few remaining buildings from the original city founded by Emperor Ly Thanth Tong in the 11th century and is a well-preserved example of Vietnamese architecture. It became the site of the country's first university in 1076. Consisting of a complex of small buildings and five walled courtyards, it was an exclusive establishment teaching the principles of Confucius. Over a period of 900 years thousands of Vietnamese scholars graduated from the university. In the third courtyard is a pond, the Well of Heavenly Clarity, and beside it are 82 stone stelae, mounted on tortoises and engraved with the names of successful graduates. There is also a temple dedicated to Confucius and an altar where the king and his mandarins would make sacrifices.

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Van Mieu - Quoc Tu Giam is a famous historical and cultural relic consisting of the Temple of Literature and Vietnam’s first university. The Temple of Literature was built in 1070 in honour of Confucius, his followers, and Chu Van An, a moral figure in Vietnamese education. Quoc Tu Giam, or Vietnam's first university, was built in 1076. Throughout its 900 years of activity, thousands of Vietnamese scholars graduated from this university. This site preserves historical vestiges of a 1,000-year-old civilization such as statues of Confucius and his disciples (Yan Hui, Zengshen, Zisi, Mencius), and ancient constructions such as Khue Van Pavilion and the Worshipping Hall.

The artifacts collected during the recent excavation drives around Van Mieu (Temple of Literature) in Hanoi proved the architecture of this site belongs to the Ly (1010-1225) and Tran (1225-1400) Dynasties. Life of the students in olden times is reflected through these artifacts and seemed to be simple and pure compared to that of the city dwellers. Van Mieu - Quoc Tu Giam (National College) now preserves 82 steles engraved with the names of 1,306 doctors who obtained the doctoral titles at 82 royal examinations, held from 1442 to 1779. Although Van Mieu was built long ago, the architectural complexes in this area were erected much later. One of them was Khue Van Cac, or Pavilion of the Constellation of Literature, built under the Nguyen Dynasty (1802-1945). In 1802, Gia Long took the throne and built the capital in Hue. In 1805, the Commander of the Northern Citadel, Nguyen Van Thanh, ordered the construction of Khue Van Cac at Van Mieu. This project was carried out at the same time as the erection of the surrounding walls around Van Mieu in 1833.

Originally built in 1070 in the Ly dynasty, the temple is a shrine to Confucius and his disciples responsible for spreading his teachings. Six years later, Quoc Tu Giam or School for the sons of the Nation was established for the princes. The school later admitted sons of mandarins and finally commoners were allowed to attend but, only after they passed a rigorous examination at the regional level. In 1484, Van Mieu became a place to memorialize the most brilliant scholars of the nation.

In 1484, King Le Thanh Tong decreed the names of all those who have attained the doctoral ranks in the national examination be inscribed on stone stelae carried on the backs of giant tortoises. In all, 2,313 individuals were awarded the title of tien si. However, detailed records were kept only between 1442 and 1779 . According to records, there should be 112 stelae in all but only 82 stelae are still standing. Each represents a single examination year. The name and native village of the students who were awarded the title Tien Si or doctor laureate were inscribed on the stone. Tien si was not a diploma of graduation from the royal college. This title was awarded to those who have successful passed the 4 royal examinations. Scholars from all over Vietnam could participate only if they had passed the regional exam.

Courtyard of the Sages is located beyond the Garden of Stelae. Entrance to the courtyard is through Dai Thanh Mon or Gate of Great Success. The Great House of Ceremonies is located here. It was here that all new doctor laureates would come to pay respect to Confucius. The king would also come to pay homage to the great teacher at Dai Thanh Mon. Inscribed on a wooden panel above the altar are the words Teacher of Ten Thousand Generations

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Behind the Great House of Ceremonies is the Sanctuary, with statue of Confucius flanked by his four closest disciples, Nhan Tu, Tu Tu, Tang Tu, and Manh-Tu (Mencius). Quoc Tu Giam or School for the Sons of the nation is located in the last courtyard. During the time when Van Mieu was used as a school, this area housed classrooms, housing facilities and a print shop. When the university was moved to Hue, Quoc Tu Giam was turned into a shrine to Confucius' parents called Khai Thanh.

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