Confucius Temples: Houses of Worship in Ancient China

Undoubtedly, the most famous and influential thinker and philosopher in Chinese history was Confucius. Though he lived in ancient times (551 BC – 479 BC), his ideas still are paramount in Chinese culture today, and he has often been referred to as the “grandfather of Chinese philosophy”. It is because of Confucius’s influence that the Chinese eat with chopsticks and practice filial piety, two obvious cores of Chinese culture.

Since Confucius was so important, it became common historical practice to erect temples in his honor. These temples were usually places for local people to worship Confucius’s spirit and they also housed philosophical artifacts and icons from Confucian lore. Many small versions of these temples exist throughout China today, but by far the most famous two are the Temple of Confucius in Qufu (Shandong Province), which was Confucius’s hometown, as well as the Confucius Temple in Beijing.

The Temple of Confucius in Qufu is the largest Confucian temple in China. It is still run by the great thinker’s distant relatives, the Kong family, and houses, among other things, Confucius’s remains. Though most Confucian temples take a 3-room design, the Qufu temple boasts nine halls. The original three rooms were built in 478 BC and the others were gradually added over the years. The Qufu temple also houses a stately library and is an excellent example of ancient Chinese architecture.

The Confucius Temple in Beijing is the most accessible Confucius temple in China and, therefore, it is also the most popular among tourists. It sits in the north part of Beijing, not far from the Yonghe Gong Lama Temple, and was once the place of Confucian worship for all of the imperial officials and emperors. The Beijing Confucius Temple was built in 1302, much later than the Qufu temple, so it saw the most use during the Ming and Qing Dynasties.

From the grandiose Temple of Confucius in Qufu to the simplest rural Confucian shrines, one can always find a sense of historical importance and weighty philosophy among their pavilions and great halls. The designs, which often portray dragons and other imperial symbols, suggest how important Confucius was and is to the Chinese people. These temples are also excellent places to observe classical Chinese design and to see relics such as stone tablets and commemorative stele slabs.


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