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Temple of Literature, Hanoi

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Title: Temple of Literature, Hanoi  
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Subject: Lý Nhân Tông, Hanoi, Literary Chinese in Vietnam, Vietnamese art, Adoption of Chinese literary culture
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Temple of Literature, Hanoi

Lake of Literature, to the south of the compound

The Temple of Literature (Văn Miếu, 文廟) is a temple of Confucius in Hanoi, northern Vietnam. The temple hosts the "Imperial Academy" (Quốc Tử Giám, 國子監), Vietnam's first national university. The temple was built in 1070 at the time of King Lý Nhân Tông. It is one of several temples in Vietnam which are dedicated to Confucius, sages and scholars. The Temple is located to the south of Thang Long Citadel. The various pavilions, halls, statues and stelae of doctors are places where offering ceremonies, study sessions and the strict exams of the Dai Viet took place. The temple is featured on the back of the 100,000 Vietnamese đồng banknote. Just before the Vietnamese New Year celebration Tết, calligraphists will assemble outside the temple and write wishes in Hán characters. The art works are given as gifts or are used as home decorations for special occasions.


Well of Heavenly Clarity

The temple was built in 1070 then reconstructed during the Trần dynasty (1225–1400) and in subsequent dynasties. For nearly two centuries, despite wars and disasters, the temple has preserved ancient architectural styles of many dynasties as well as precious relics. Major restorations have taken place in 1920, 1954 and 2000.[1]

"In the autumn of the year Canh Tuat, the second year of Than Vu (1070), in the 8th lunar month, during the reign of King Ly Thanh Tong, the Temple of Literature was built. The statues of Confucius, his four best disciples: Yan Hui (Nhan Uyên), Zengzi (Tăng Sâm), Zisi (Tử Tư), and Mencius (Mạnh Tử), as well as the Duke of Zhou (Chu Công), were carved and 72 other statues of Confucian scholars were painted. Ceremonies were dedicated to them in each of the four seasons. The Crown Princes studied here." [2]

In 1076, Vietnam's first university, the "Quốc Tử Giám" or Imperial Academy, was established within the temple to educate Vietnam's bureaucrats, nobles, royalty and other members of the elite. The university remained open from 1076 to 1779. In 1802, the Nguyen monarchs founded the Huế capital where they established a new imperial academy. The academy at the Hanoi temple lost its prominence and became a school of the Hoai Duc district.

Under the French protectorate, the Temple of the Literature was registered as Monument historique in 1906. Campaigns of restoration were pursued in 1920 and 1947 under the responsibility of École française d'Extrême-Orient (French School of the Far East) and again after the World War II.[3]


The main gate to the temple
The temple layout is similar to that of the temple at Qufu, Shandong, Confucius' birthplace. It covers an area of over 54000 square metres, including the Literature ("Van") lake, Giam park and the interior courtyards which are surrounded by a brick wall. In front of the Great Gate are four tall pillars. On either side of the pillars are two stelae commanding horsemen to dismount.

The gate opens onto three pathways which continue through the complex. The centre path was reserved for the monarch, the one to its left for the administrative Mandarins and the one to its right for military Mandarins. The interior of the site is divided into five courtyards. The first two courtyards are quiet areas with ancient trees and trimmed lawns, where scholars would relax away from the bustle of the outside world.


The first courtyard and the gate leading to the second

The first courtyard extends from the Great Portico to the Great Middle gate ("Dai Trung"), which is flanked by two smaller gates: the "Attained Talent" gate ("Dai Tai") and the "Accomplished Virtue" gate ( "Thanh Duc").

Second Courtyard

Second Courtyard and Constellation of Literature pavilion

The second courtyard contains the "Constellation of Literature pavilion" ("Khuê Văn Các", 奎文閣), a unique architectural work built in 1805 and a symbol of present day Hanoi. The "Constellation of literature pavilion" is built on four white-washed stone stilts. At the top is a red-coloured pavilion with two circular windows and an elaborate roof. Inside, a bronze bell hangs from the ceiling to be rung on auspicious occasions. Beside the "Constellation of Literature pavilion" are the "Crystallization of Letters" gate ("Suc Văn") and the "Magnificence of Letters" gate ("Bi Văn"). These two gates are dedicated to the beauty of the content and the form of literature.

Third Courtyard

Third Courtyard of the temple with the Well of Heavenly Clarity and the red Constellation of Literature pavilion
One enters the third courtyard from the "Constellation of Literature". In the third courtyard is the "Well of Heavenly Clarity" ("Thiên quang tỉnh"). On either side of the well stand two great halls which house the treasures of the temple.

Stelae of Doctors

Turtle Steles with the names of those successful at the royal exams
In 1484, the King Lê Thánh Tông erected 116 steles of carved blue stone turtles with elaborate motifs to honour talent and encourage study. The turtle ("quy") is one of the nation's four holy creatures. The others are the dragon ("long"), the unicorn ("ly") and the phoenix ("phuong"). The turtle is a symbol of longevity. The shape and size of the turtle changed with the passage of time.

The doctors' steles are a valuable historical resource for the study of culture, education and sculpture in Vietnam. 82 stelae remain. They depict the names and birth places of 1307 graduates of 82 triennial royal exams. Between 1442 and 1779, eighty-one exams were held by the Le dynasty and one was held by the Mac dynasty.[4] The ancient Chinese engravings on each stele praise the merits of the monarch and cite the reason for holding royal exams. They also record the mandarins who were tasked with organising the exams.

Fourth Courtyard

Fourth Courtyard

One enters the fourth courtyard through the "Gate of great synthesis" ("Dai Thanh"). On either side are two smaller gates: the gate of "Golden Sound" ("Kim Thanh") and the gate of "Jade Vibration" ("Ngoc Chan").

Altars to Confucius and his disciples

On each side of the ceremonial fourth courtyard stand two halls. Their original purpose was to house altars to the seventy-two most honoured disciples of Confucius and Chu Van An (a rector of the Imperial Academy). In the centre of the fourth courtyard is the "House of Ceremonies" ("Bai Duong"). The next building is the "Dai Thanh sanctuary", where Confucius and his four closest disciples Yanhui, Zengshen, Zisi and Mencius are worshipped. The sanctuary also hosts altars to ten honoured philosophers. A small museum displays ink wells, pens, books and personal artefacts belonging to some of the students that studied at the temple.

Fifth Courtyard

Fifth Courtyard, grounds of the imperial academy
Orchestra performing traditional music in honour of the royal founders and Confucius

In 1076, King Ly Nhan Tong ordered the construction of an imperial academy as a fifth courtyard. Literate mandarins were selected as students. In 1236, the academy was enlarged and named "Quoc Tu Vien" and later "Quoc Hoc Vien". In the Le dynasty it was called "Thai Hoc Vien" and was developed further. This development included the "Minh Luan" house, west and east classrooms, a storehouse for wooden printing blocks and two sets of three 25 room dormitories. The "Khai Thanh" shrine was built to honour the parents of Confucius. In 1946, the courtyard was destroyed by the French in 1946. In the year 2000, the fifth courtyard was reconstructed on grounds of the original "Imperial Academy". It honours the talents, the national traditions and the culture and education of Vietnam. The design of the new fifth courtyard were based on the traditional architecture in harmony with the surrounding sights of the temple. Several buildings were constructed including the front building, the rear building, the left and right buildings, a bell house and a drum house. The "Thai Hoc" courtyard occupies 1530 m2 of the temple's total area of 6150 m2. The front building has a number of functions. Ceremonies in memory of cultural scholars are organised from the front building as are scientific activities and cultural events. The rear building has two levels. The ground floor has a statue of Chu Van An (a rector of the academy) and shows exhibits of the temple and the academy with a display on Confucian education in Vietnam.

Altar to Chu Văn An, rector of the imperial academy

The upper floor is dedicated to the three monarchs who contributed most to the foundation of the temple and the academy: Lý Thánh Tông (1023–1072), who founded the temple in 1070, Lý Nhân Tông (1066–1127), who founded the Imperial Academy, and Lê Thánh Tông (1442–1497), who ordered the erection of the turtle stone stelae of doctor laureates in 1484. On either side of the rear building are square buildings which hold a drum and a bronze bell. The drum is 2.01 metres wide, 2.65 metres high, has a volume of 10 m3 and weighs 700 kilogram. The bell was cast in 2000. It has a height of 2.1 metres and it is 0.99 metres wide.

Study at the Imperial Academy

Uniforms of students of the imperial academy

The organization of instruction and learning at the Imperial Academy began in 1076 under the Ly dynasty and was further developed in the 15th century under the Le dynasty. The academy was headed by a rector ("Te tuu") and a vice-rector ("Tu nghiep"). The professors of the academy held different titles: "Giao thu", "Truc giang", "Tro giao" and "Bac si".

Most students ("giam sinh") had passed the regional exam ("huong") before enrolling at the academy. During the course of study at the academy, the students focused on discussion of literature and wrote poetry. as well. They read The Four Books ("The Great Study", "The Golden Means", "The Analects" and "Mencius"); Five Pre-Confucian Classics ("Book of Odes", "Book of Annals", "Book of Rites", "Book of Spring and Autumn" and "Book of Change"); ancient poetry and Chinese history among others.

The students enrolled for three to seven years. They had minor tests each month and four major tests per year. Success in the exams, certified by the "Ministry of Rites" qualified them to sit the national exam, the "Hoi". Success at the "Hoi" qualified the student to sit the royal exam, the "Dinh", held at court. At this exam, the monarch himself posed the questions, responded to the candidate's answer and then ranked those who passed into different grades. The Imperial Academy was the largest educational centre in the country.


Fine arts

  • Frederick Harris' painting, The Red Door, is a watercolor of the Temple of Literature, Hanoi[5]



  1. ^
  2. ^ "Complete History of the Great Viet"
  3. ^ Trân-hàm-Tân (1951), Studies about the Temple of Literature (Hanoi), EFEO, vol. 45, n° 45-1, pp. 89-118 (in French)
  4. ^ Van Mieu Quoc Tu Giam, The Gioi Publishers, Hanoi, Socialist Republic of Vietnam, 1994
  5. ^ "Home page illustration". Wired For Books. Retrieved July 3, 2014. 

Further reading

  • Forbes, Andrew, and Henley, David: Vietnam Past and Present: The North (Chapter on history of Hanoi's Temple of Literature). Chiang Mai. Cognoscenti Books, 2012. ASIN: B006DCCM9Q.
  • Tran Doàn Lâm, Lê Bích Thuy, Bùi Kim Tuyen (2004). Van Mieu Quoc Tu Giám: The Temple of Literature, School for the Sons of the Nation, Hà Noi Viet Nam. A Walking Tour. Hanoi: Thế Giới Publishers. p. 85. 

External links

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