Confucianism, the Literati, and Chinese Imperial Traditions

Leadership, Authority, and Religious Roles

What have been the principal ritual venues for Confucian communities and CIT?

Three main kinds of sacred spaces have been at the center of activities. Several kinds of venues called “memorial halls” enshrined the spiritual presence of great Literati, beginning with Confucius himself and his ancestors. These facilities go by the generic name wen miao, “temple of literature/culture,” while those specifically dedicated to Confucius are often called Kong (or Kong Zi) miao. Until at least the middle of this century, Confucian temples enjoyed prestigious locations in nearly every Chinese city—as well as many Korean and some Japanese cities.

In most Confucian temples one of the more important community functions has been that of a place of study. These temples tend to draw clientele from a wider area than do CCT temples, which function more like local parishes. Unlike Buddhist and CCT temples, Confucianus temples do not hum with the ritual devotions of a steady stream of worshippers. There the ritual is more likely to be quiet academic work in the side rooms provided for that purpose. Once dedicated to the reading of the Confucian classics, these rooms now provide students whose homes are crowded and noisy a chance to concentrate on any academic subject. Second in importance and number are three different types of altars for the worship of agricultural deities, natural powers of mountain and river, and ancestral spirits. Generally set in a shared compound were the first two kinds of altar, twenty-foot square platforms, walled in and facing west. Temples of the imperial cult, finally, could be either of grand scale, as in Beijing’s Temple of Heaven, or relatively humble, as in a local temple to the earth deity. All three venues provided a variety of circumstances under which communities have come together.


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