epaper

Confucius Day

Once a Year, the Great Sage and Many Other Great Teachers in Chinese History Are Honored with a Traditional Ceremony

By Kurt Weidner

If you happen to be in Taipei on September 28 and you don’t mind getting up very early, consider heading to the TaipeiConfucius Temple and witness the solemn annual Confucius Ceremony. If you can’t make it that day, a visit to thisor anotherConfucius temple in Taiwan is highly recommended at any time of the year.

The Confucius Temple is one of the few places in the core area of Taipei where you can experience quiet and peacefulness amidst all the hectic and busy activity the city is known for. Walk through the side gate and you enter a temple complex with a small park area that is very different from most other temples and parks you might have visited in Taipei. After receiving a major facelift recently, the temple is in perfect shape and the grounds are spotlessly clean. Squirrels can be seen jumping from tree to tree, and in the morning hours older folks go about practicing taiqi and qigong.
In sharp contrast to other temples in Taipei – for example Baoan Temple, which is just a stone’s throw away and is a must-visit site in its own right – there are no large crowds at the Confucius Temple, and the air is not filled with the smoke of burning joss sticks. Everything is calm and orderly here. A Confucius temple is, after all, traditionally a place of learning, not of worship.
For most of the day it’s pleasantly tranquil at the temple, “safe” for the occasional tourist group coming for a visit. Airplanes can be seen low overhead on their approach to nearby Taipei Songshan Airport (as a passenger you can easily recognize the temple by its strict symmetrical layout). At eight o’clock each morning, however, the courtyard in front of the main hall, Dacheng Hall, comes to life – something I witnessed during a visit earlier this summer. About 80 elementary school students, all wearing pink T-shirts with a logo depicting Confucius on the front, gathered and lined up in rows five deep. Moving to the beat of a big drum and the instructions of their teacher, the students (5th and 6th graders at nearby Dalong Elementary School) went through a strict routine of changing poses.

The routine seemed to be quite a challenge for the 10~12-year-olds. They started by standing rigidly still, and then slowly moved from one precision pose to another. Teacher Chuang Wen-chen constantly guided the students in refining their movements, and in minimizing wavering and hesitation. It was difficult to tell, from their expressions, whether they enjoyed or loathed this early-morning drill. After the end of the half-hour practice, the friendly and knowledgeable Chuang assured me that “All of them are volunteers; no one is forced to take part in this,” adding, after a moment’s thought, that “of course, there might be a certain amount of pressure from some of the students’ families.” The annual Confucius Ceremony, during which these students are going to perform this year, has been staged since 1931 at the Confucius Temple, and many of the students’ parents – in some cases even grandparents – have performed the same ritualistic moves the students are learning now, every weekday before going to class. Parents take great pride in the fact their children are continuing this family tradition.

An annual event, the Confucius Ceremony is staged September 28th (also known as “Teacher’s Day”) in the early-morning hours. The ceremony is carried out to honor China’s greatest teacher on his birthday (his 2561st this year), and also the some 200 most famous teachers in Chinese history, whose wooden name plates are displayed in the buildings surrounding the main courtyard. During the dance, known as the Yi Dance, which dates back to the Ming Dynasty (1368~1644), the students line up in rows on the platform in front of Dacheng Hall. They wear traditional yellow costumes (the color yellow symbolizing hope) and carry two items in their hands. One, the Yue, is a red 2-foot-long pipe-like object symbolizing a bamboo flute, and the other, the Di, consists of a golden-colored dragon-shaped handle holding three long pheasant feathers, the distinct segment-like pattern on the feathers symbolizing “moving upward (in learning) step by step”.
The number of students taking part in the dance depends on the rank of the highest official attending. In ancient times the Confucius ceremony was staged not only to honor Confucius but also to pay respect to the emperor or local ruler in attendance. The largest dance formation, with 8 x 8 rows of dancers, was reserved for the emperor, while smaller formations, such as 6 x 6, 4 x 4, and 2 x 2, were used to honor dignitaries of lower rank. Today, the 8 x 8 formation (Ba Yi), is used at Taipei’s Confucius Temple only when the president of the Republic of China, or Taiwan, attends the ceremony (which he did in 2010 and is expected to do so again this year), and the 6 x 6 formation (Liu Yi) is used when the highest-ranking official present is the mayor of Taipei.

The Confucius Ceremony traditionally starts at 6 in the morning, and lasts for up to two hours depending on the formation used. Asked why the ceremony is conducted at such an early hour, teacher Chuang explained that “Qi energy is strongest at the time when the night ends and the morning begins. It is believed that the spirit of Confucius descends (from heaven) during the ceremony, and the temple square is filled with positive qi energy emanating from Dacheng Hall. This is seen as a blessing for all people? in attendance.”
Despite the early starting time, the ceremony is a popular event, with several hundred spectators filling the courtyard each year, coming to receive the blessings and absorb the wisdom believed to be “in the air” at this time, or simply to take in the show. At the end of the ceremony, the organizers distribute so-called “wisdom cakes,” the eating of which is believed to help in academic achievements. Another method for obtaining wisdom is the “pulling out of wisdom calligraphy brushes” from the back of a cow sculpture placed in the courtyard.
On September 28, all Confucius temples around Taiwan will stage some form of ceremony or Confucius birthday-celebration event. So the Taipei Confucius Temple is not your only option for witnessing how the Great Sage is honored on his special day.

Taipei Confucius Temple (台北孔廟)
Add: 275, Dalong St., Datong District, Taipei City
(台北市大同區大龍街275號)
Tel: (02) 2592-3934
Website: www.ct.taipei.gov.tw

Helpful website: http://confucius.culture.tw/

Other Confucius temples around Taiwan:
Taoyuan Confucius Temple (桃園孔廟)
Add: 42, Gongyuan Rd., Taoyuan City (桃園巿公園路42號), inside Mt. Hutou Scenic Area (虎頭山風景區)

Hsinchu Confucius Temple (新竹孔廟)
Location: Inside Zhongshan Park, Eastern District, Hsinchu City (新竹巿東區中山公園內)

Taichung Confucius Temple (台中孔廟)
Add: 30, Sec. 2, Shuangshi Rd., Northern District, Taichung City (台中市北區雙十路二段30號)

Changhua Confucius Temple (彰化孔廟)
Add: 31, Kongmeng Rd., Yongfu Li, Changhua City, Changhua County (彰化縣彰化市永福里孔門路31號)

Chiayi Confucius Temple (嘉義孔廟)
Location: Inside Zhongshan Park, Eastern District, Chiayi City (嘉義巿東區中山公園內)

Tainan Confucius Temple (台南孔廟)
Add: 2, Nanmen Rd., Tainan City (台南市南門路二號)

Kaohsiung Confucius Temple (高雄孔廟)
Add: 400, Liantan Rd., Zuoying District, Kaohsiung City (高雄市左營區蓮潭路400號)

English & Chinese
Ba Yi 八佾
Chuang Wen-chen 莊汶湞
Confucius Ceremony 祭孔大典
Dalong Elementary School 大龍國小
Di
Liu Yi 六佾
pulling out of wisdom calligraphy brushes 拔智慧毛筆
qi
qigong 氣功
Teacher’s Day 教師節
wisdom cakes 智慧餅
Yi Dance 佾舞
Yue

 

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