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Dacheng Temple

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Dacheng Temple, Nanjing

Overview

The Temple of Confucius in Qufu, Shandong Province, is the largest and most renowned temple of Confucius in East Asia.

Since 1994, the Temple of Confucius has been part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site "Temple and Cemetery of Confucius and the Kong Family Mansion in Qufu". The two other parts of the site are the nearby Kong Family Mansion, where the main-line descendants of Confucius lived, and the Cemetery of Confucius a few kilometers to the north, where Confucius and many of his descendants have been buried. Those three sites are collectively known in Qufu as San Kong, i.e. "The Three Confucian".

History & Background

Within two years after the death of Confucius, his former house in Qufu was already consecrated as a temple by the Prince of Lu. In 205 BC, Emperor Gao of the Han Dynasty was the first emperor to offer sacrifices to the memory of Confucius in Qufu. He set an example for many emperors and high officials to follow. Later, emperors would visit Qufu after their enthronement or on important occasions such as a successful war. In total, 12 different emperors paid 20 personal visits to Qufu to worship Confucius. About 100 others sent their deputies for 196 official visits. The original three-room house of Confucius was removed from the temple complex during a rebuilding undertaken in 611 AD. In 1012 and in 1094, during the Song Dynasty, the temple was extended into a design with three sections and four courtyards, around which eventually more than 400 rooms were arranged. Fire and vandalism destroyed the temple in 1214, during the Jin Dynasty. It was restored to its former extent by the year 1302 during the Yuan Dynasty. Shortly thereafter, in 1331, the temple was framed in an enclosure wall modelled on the Imperial palace.

After another devastation by fire in 1499, the temple was finally restored to its present scale. In 1724, yet another fire largely destroyed the main hall and the sculptures it contained. The subsequent restoration was completed in 1730. Many of the replacement sculptures were damaged and destroyed during the Cultural Revolution in 1966. In total, the Temple of Confucius has undergone 15 major renovations, 31 large repairs, and numerous small building measures.

Another main Confucius Temple was built in Quzhou by the southern branch of the Confucius family.

Layout & Function

The temple complex is among the largest in China, it covers an area of 16,000 square metres and has a total of 460 rooms. Because the last major redesign following the fire in 1499 took place shortly after the building of the Forbidden City in the Ming Dynasty, the architecture of the Temple of Confucius resembles that of the Forbidden City in many ways.

The main part of the temple consists of 9 courtyards arranged on a central axis, which is oriented in the north-south direction and is 1.3 km in length. The first three courtyards have small gates and are planted with tall pine trees, they serve an introductory function. The first (southernmost) gate is named "Lingxing Gate" (棂星门) after a star in the Great Bear constellation, the name suggests that Confucius is a star from heaven. The buildings in the remaining courtyards form the heart of the complex. They are impressive structures with yellow roof-tiles (otherwise reserved for the emperor) and red-painted walls, they are surrounded by dark-green pine trees to create a color contrast with complementary colors.

The main structures of the temple are:

Lingxing Gate (棂星门)
Shengshi Gate (圣时门)
Hongdao Gate (弘道门)
Dazhong Gate (大中门)
Thirteen Stele Pavilions (十三碑亭)
Dacheng Gate (大成门)
Kuiwen Hall (奎文阁, built in 1018, restored in 1504 during the Ming Dynasty and in 1985)
Xing Tan Pavilion (杏坛, Apricot Platform)
De Mu Tian Di Arch
Liangwu (两庑)
Dacheng Hall (大成殿, built in the Qing Dynasty)
Resting Hall (寝殿, dedicated to Confucius' Wife)

Dacheng Hall
The Dacheng Hall, whose name is usually translated as the Hall of Great Perfection or the Hall of Great Achievement, is the architectural center of the present-day complex. The hall covers an area of 54 by 34 m and stands slightly less than 32 m tall. It is supported by 28 richly decorated pillars, each 6 m high and 0.8 m in diameter and carved in one piece out of local rock. The 10 columns on the front side of the hall are decorated with coiled dragons. It is said that these columns were covered during visits by the emperor in order not to arouse his envy. Dacheng Hall served as the principal place for offering sacrifices to the memory of Confucius. It is also said to be one of the most beautiful views of Confucius Temple.

Apricot Platform
In the center of the courtyard in front of Dacheng Hall stands the Xing Tan Pavilion, or the Apricot Platform. It commemorates Confucius teaching his students under an apricot tree. Each year at Qufu and at many other Confucian temples a ceremony is held on September 28 to commemorate Confucius' birthday.

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