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Văn Miếu (Temple of Literature)

  1. General information:tải xuống (1)

* Brief introduction about Hanoi – the capital of one-thousand-year history
– Before the year 1010, the capital was Hoa Lu (100 km South of Hanoi). At that time, we got our independence after 1000 years under the Chinese domination; it was a military capital – surrounded by the LimestoneMountains.
– The country was getting richer and more powerful; needed a bigger capital; In 1010 king Ly Thai To decided to moved the capital to another place – with central location and convenience for farming and trading
– The legend of Ascending Dragon: while the king was sailing along the Red river, he saw a golden dragon ascending from the riverside – a good omen for the country; he decided to choose this dragon’s land as the capital city, and named it as Ascending Dragon city.

– Since then, there have been many palaces; pagodas and temple built inside the capital citadel. Due to the war time and historical changes, there are not many of them left nowadays.
The name Hanoi appeared in 1831 when the capital moved to Hue by the Nguyen Dynasty (the last dynasty) Ha means River and Noi means the Inside, so Hanoi means the city embraced by the Red river.
– When the French took over Vietnam (by the end of the 19th century), they destroyed many ancient architectures and replaced with the modern one. This temple was luckily reserved as memorial feudalism in Vietnamese.
– In 1945: Hanoi was again chosen to be capital by Ho Chi Minh’s government after defeating the French army.
* When was this temple built? By whom and dedicated to whom?
This temple was built in 1070 by king Ly Thanh Tong to worship Confucius and also to be a quiet place for the crown prince’s studying.
* Who’s Confucius? What’s Confucianism? Why Confucianism was important in the feudalism?

– Confucius is a Chinese man who founded Confucianism.
– Confucianism is not a religion but a way of thought based on a temporal world. The Great Confucian virtue is how to behave as a good human being: to follow the rules of life and act correctly by their social status and the only way to have a higher class is by studying and successful in the royal exam.
– According to the Confucius’s theory, man is more appreciated than woman, and the most important man in one country is the king. The king is considered to be the Heaven’s son so all people have to respect him and follow his orders without any discussion. This rule made Confucianism became the foundation of feudalism of every Asian countries and Confucius were worshipped by every kings

* Why the king named it temple of LITERATURE (not math or philosophy?)
Because in the ancient time, when people followed the Confucian educational system, Literature was everything they have to study on. The natural sciences such as mathematic, chemical, physics… were not mentioned, the schools program only included the Confucian classics, philosophy, literature, history, and students must learn how to compose poems, royal essays.
* What was the school built for? By whom and for whom?
– In 1076 when the crown prince became a king, he ordered to build the Quoc Tu Giam or The school for the nation’s sons at the rear of this temple. (Quoc = national; Tu = son)
– It became the 1st university of the whole country, which was firstly opened for members of the royal family and sons of the mandarin and then later, opened to all talented students.

* Why are there so many Chinese characters in this temple? Is this language similar to Vietnamese one? How was the Latin system introduced into Vietnam language?
– Because in the ancient time, we only had our own oral language and didn’t have the written one. In the time of feudalism, we had to use Chinese characters for our writing system. So in all ancient architecture, we used Chinese characters as a kind of decoration.
– The present written language was invented in 16th century, when there were a couple of Catholic missionaries came to Vietnam, and they had to think of an easy way to transform the Catholic theory and introduced it to Vietnam. Under the French domination, this writing system was developed and promoted through the whole country.

2. The Entrance Gate:
* Panoramic diagram of the temple: How many sections, why there are more than one section? The meaning of No.5 in the oriental culture and Confucianism?
– The temple’s architecture is divided into five courtyards, it helps you separate yourself and cool down your soul whist walking deep inside the temple.

– On the other hand, in Confucianism, the number five is a sacred number:

• There’re five basic elements created the world: metal, wood, water, fire, earth.
• There’re 5 virtues a gentleman must have: humanity (nhân), righteousness (lễ), civility (nghĩa), knowledge (trí) and loyalty (tín).

• There’re 5 basic relationships of society: king and subjects, father and son, husband and wife, brothers, friends.
*How was it run in the ancient time?
– Originally, in the ancient time, this Temple was the most sacred one in Hanoi and was opened just twice per year, in Spring and Autumn festival. Only the king and his followers could walk into the temple and they made some ceremonies dedicated to Confucius. The King would take the entrance path while all mandarins (military and civil mandarins) would take the smaller ones on the left and the right side. Soldiers were not allowed to enter the Temple
– By the end of 17th century, the capital was moved to Hue by Nguyen dynasty – the last dynasty of Vietnamese feudalism. King Nguyen also removed a lot of royal palaces in Hanoi and transferred to Hue. Finally, they decided to destroyed the imperial wall citadel and used these bricks to built a wall surrounded this temple, turned it into the last reminder of former royal families in Hanoi.
3. The Middle Gate:
* The meaning of symbol Two carps with one jar?
– It symbolizes the hard way of students who want to be mandarin of the country. According to an old story, when carps want to change themselves to dragons, they have to pass an arch- shaped rock waterfall during the violent tide.

– It’s also similar to students who succeeded in passing through the examinations while this little jar stands for the holy knowledge and the purity of soul and mind.
* Names of the two smaller gates? Their meaning?
The two side gates’ names are Virtue (Thành Đức) and Talent (Đạt Tài). Since the ancient time, they’ve been considered to be the most important qualities of successful students in our education system.

4. The Khue Van Cac (Pavilion of Constellation of Literature):
* When and why was it built?
– This pavilion didn’t belong to the Temple’s original architecture. It was built just by the end of 18th century, when King Nguyen carried out the last restoration for this temple before moving the capital to Hue.
– There’s also a Temple of Literature in Hue. It’s much smaller than this one but the architecture and purpose are exactly the same.
– Now we use this pavilion as the symbol of Hanoi. You can see it on street signs and Vietnamese notes.

* The name’s meaning? How does it represent for the Yin – Yang concept?

Khue = Constellation (Chòm sao); Van = Literature; Cac = Pavilion.

– The pavilion is rich in the complementary symbolism of yin- yang. That’s a two-storey construction: the first one is 4 rock pillars, the second one is wooden construction. Four sides of the construction are circle windows with rays heading to all directions, which symbolizes the Shining Constellation of Literature.  The Pavilion is a combination of squares and circles, red and gold (yellow), wood and rock, etc.

– Red is a wealthy color in Eastern Culture, they use Red in a variety of construction, wishing for good luck.
* The relationship between this pavilion and the two small gates at the previous section, the ponds and the Well of Heavenly Clarity:
– In order for the student to pass through the gate to the next level of knowledge, the virtue and talent of the first stage must be joined to excellence in literary expression.

-The Well of Heavenly Clarity (Thiền Quang Tỉnh) is located in the central of the whole systemTemple of Literature, which helps it to collect all supernatural power and quintessence of the Temple. The sunlight, after shining into the well, will be reflected all around, through the circle windows of the Pavilion of Constellation of Literature, then reflected into the four ponds in the garden, creating a light system, and lightening the whole Temple.

-Before entering the sacred Temple, people see their reflection in the water of the Well of Heavenly Clarity in order to purify their soul and mind.
5. Examination in the past:
* Why the exam was important to all students in the old days?
– The first, the second, the third courtyard are also refer to three different examinations that students had to take to become a scholar mandarin.
– That was the only way for people who wanted to have higher class in society. The 3 – stage examination process could take several years.
* How was the exam held?
– The first step, was the Regional examination which held every 3 years in several main towns and the successful candidates will receive the title bachelor’s degree.

– The second step: those who passed the 1st step then came to Hanoi to sit for the second exam called National exam which happened in the next 3-4 years. It was four parts examination. A candidate had to pass each part in sequence in order to qualify to sit for the following part. They have to show their profound knowledge of Confucian books, to write a royal essay, to compose poem in Chinese character and to comment on how to solve problem facing the country. Those who complete all four were conferred the title of doctor and invited to the Royal palace for the Palace examination.
– The third step: called Palace examination/Royal examination, all new doctors had to answer questions given directly from the king. The king then ranked the doctors in three groups and the top three successful candidates of the highest-ranking group.
– The new mandarins then were given a banquet at the palace, award new clothes and a lot of money and sent home to their village in triumphal procession. Later on, they would come back to the capital and work for the royal course as a mandarin.

6. The StelesGarden
* When did the 1st stele was built? By whom and why did he built it
– These stelae had been built since the 15th century.

– That time, we had a very outstanding king and under his leading the Vietnamese royal system reach its peak of development (king Le Thanh Tong).

-the king paid a lot of attention to promote the country’s education. And according to his opinions, it took so much time and energy for studying and for those who succeeded in both 3 exams money and higher social position may not enough. He agreed that “talent is the life source of a nation, the powerful life source strengthens a country, a declining life source weakens it”.

– The king’s idea was to built stelae on which curved the name of all successful students so that their name would last forever in the country’s history. It’s the biggest pride for all of them and their family, and then when their offspring visit this temple, whenever they see their ancestral names, they would be encouraged on studying.
* The general content of stele?
– Each stele represents a single examination year.

– General speaking, their contents are:

• 1st part contains some nice words toward the king and his royal court that held this exam.
• 2nd part tell you about this exam: when and where it happened, how difficult it was, the name of all examiners and of this stele composer.

• 3rd part records the name and native villages of those awarded doctor degree that year following the ranking position.

* Why sometimes you see some destroyed characters on these stelea?
– Originally, they are some nice words praising of the king who held this exam.
– In the 19th century, when the Nguyen dynasty raised up and took power over the country, the 1st king of this dynasty wanted to erase the former dynasty’s influences. So he ordered his soldiers to rub these nice words out, to bring every local people’s thoughts on the former king away.
* How many stelae totally? How many of them left? Why are they different from each other?

– According to the history books, there were about 150 stelae in this temple but during the war time, lot of them was destroyed, so today, there’re only 82 undamaged steles with turtles left. The 83rd one now is only the turtle without stele (which was discovered in GiamLake).
– The content is the same but their size and decoration style are quite different. The reason is they were carved in different period:

• Group 1: the earliest steles – dating to the 15th century: smaller stele with very simple decoration.
• Group 2: the 16th century steles are a little bit bigger and were carved a little bit more delicately.
• Group 3: the 17th-18th century – the biggest steles, more beautiful designed
* Why are they placed on the backs of tortoises?
– In our spiritual life, tortoise is one of four sacred animals (dragon, phoenix, unicorn and tortoise).
– It symbolizes the universe, with the tortoise shell representing the sky and its belly, the earth. Tortoise is also stand for the longevity. The king put steles on the tortoises’ back and wished the national passion for learning and talent can last forever.
* Why the tortoises’ head are so smooth?
– The steles always represent for successful students. So before every important exam, a lot of Vietnamese students come here and touch the tortoises’ heads and believing that this action can bring them good luck for the coming exam.

– The peak season is June – before the University Entrance Exam. It’s the most difficult and important Exam in Vietnam. After finishing the high school, we have to take this exam to go to university and colleague. Vietnamese people always pay their respect to education and even a simple farmer family also have a dream of their children would have chance to upgrade themselves by receiving a better education.

– Consequently, the vacuums in universities are always lower than demand. On average, there’s only around 15% of candidates pass this exam. Even nowadays, we open more and more private universities but they’re quite expensive for most of countryside-families. So we still have to fight for higher education.
7. The Main House:
* Its purpose?
– This is the Great House of Ceremonies: in the old days, the king and his fellow would make his offering to Confucius.

– It is also the place where the new doctors kneel and bow to pay their respects.
– In earlier century, no one but the caretaker and the king was allowed to enter the Sanctuary.

* Whose statue are placed on these house?
– The Sanctuary, with statue of Confucius and his four best students: Nhan tử, Trang tử, Tử Tư và Mạnh Tử. After Confucius’s death, these students made a great contribution to

develop his theory and to spread it over Asian countries.
* Further information about Confucius – his brief biography?
– Even Confucius is regarded as the founder of feudalism system. In this temple, he is worshipped as a great teacher who donated his life for promoting education. When he was 54, he and his disciples started to travel from one state to another to learn and teach rites, and to persuade emperors to implement his politics of Governing by ethics. He was considered to be a teacher of ten thousand students throughout the East Asia.

– After his death at age 73, his doctrine was spread out by many of his students.

* The influence of Confucianism in Vietnam and its decline?
– Confucianism was introduced into Vietnam quite early, together with the Chinese domination which lasted for 1000 year before 938.

– Since we had our own independence, although we tried our best to keep our authentic culture and lifestyle, the Vietnamese kings did accept a lot of progressive theory from China, they practiced Confucianism to establish the new and young royal course in Vietnam.
– Confucianism reached it peak at the 15th century, under the Le dynasty. Education was promoted much more than ever and there were also bigger gaps between people of social positions, and between man and woman in the society as well.

– Since 19th century, Confucianism lost its influence in Vietnamese culture and became badly behind Western schools, particularly in technology and the natural sciences. So, at the beginning of the 20th century, Vietnam stopped all Confucian examination but the traditional respect for learning remained. And today we worship Confucius not as the founder of Confucianism but as the great teacher of generations and appreciate his non-stop learning and teaching.
8. Quoc Tu Giam: The school for the sons of Nation
* Who built the school? Who was the first student? How did it become popular for all talented (male) students?
– This school was built in 1076.

– It was firstly opened for crown prince then sons of the mandarin chosen by the king. Sometimes later, the school was opened for good male students of the country who had bachelor’s degree from one of the provincial school.

– Those who succeeded in the 1st step – Regional exam will carefully prepare for the National exam and Palace exam. Normally, they came to the capital to stay and study with the better teacher to prepare for these examinations.

– Most of them joined in this school and spent 2-3 years preparing for the exams. Some of them learnt with other famous teachers around the capital and went to this school to attend some public lectures held twice per month.
* How did they move from there hometown to this school?
– After successful in the Regional exam, students would move to the capital. But the road condition that time was definitely not easy. They had to walk most of the time, carried with them food enough for long journey, a tent, a bamboo bed and writing materials. Along the way, the students had to face the risk of robbery, tiger attacks, snakebite and many other risks.

– If they survived the trip, most candidates chose to stay for some years to study at this NationalUniversity.
* How did they live and study in the ancient time? And how long did they stay here?
– Students lived and studied in this school for couple of years before the final exams.
– Everyday they were waken up early in the morning by a bell and they’ll spend the whole day for studying Confucian classics, philosophy, literature, history and politics. They learnt by heart as well as Vietnamese and Chinese history. They also studied how to compose poetry and prepare documents such as royal edicts, speeches, mandarin’s reports, analyses, and essays.

– They might have a small pocket-money from the royal course.
* Its damage during the wartime and the restoration project (who sponsor? How long did it take?)
– During the wartime, the school was destroyed totally.

– In the year 1996, Vietnamese government had a big project to rebuild this area. It was rebuilt by all ancient techniques of many craftsmen. Actually the craftsmen could not restore the University to its original design because the area was heavily damaged at the beginning of the 19th century, and the original architectural drawings had disappeared. They just tried their best to build in an architectural style what fits with the Temple of Literature. This project finished in the year 2000.

9. Inside the main house
* Chu Van An: Who is he? Why was he famous? Why was he worshiped in the temple?

– He lived in the 13th century and became the most famous Confucian teacher in our history.
– After earning a doctoral title, he refuse to become a mandarin but setting up his own school at his native village and attracted many students. Hearing his talent, the king invited him back to the capital and appointed him vice director of the National University.
– He was not happy in the capital because of its corruption. He persuaded the king to behead 7 corrupt mandarins but the king didn’t agree, so he quickly submitted his resignation and retired.

– He back to his native school and again became a famous teachers, a lot of his disciples later worked in the royal court and had the top position.

– When he died, the king sent mandarins to attend the funeral and granted him a high royal title and had him honored as a sage in the Temple of Literature thanks to his talent and morality.

– The story of Chu Van An’s student who was the son of Water Lord:


Chu Van An had a special student. People did not know where he came from or where he lived until one day, a person saw him appearing and disappearing in a lake. Noticing this strange thing, Chu Van An then found out that this was the son of Water Lord.


In the past, severe time of droughts made people really miserable and poor. Chu Van An was worried for all of these people but could not do anything to help them. He asked the special student if there was any solution. However, rain and shine is not what he could totally decide on, it depended on nature. If the Water Lord’s son does anything to this, he will die. Due to the special respect for his teacher – Chu Van An, despite the hard punishment, the student stole his father’s pen brush, and ink slab, making the sky black, which created a heavy rain, bringing water to the people. The ink slab dropped down making a huge lake.


Next morning, people found a serpent’s body near the lake, which was thought to be the Water Lord’s son.

è  Chu Van An was such a great teacher that the son of Water Lord respected and decided to sacrifice his life.
* The old model:

– The model tells you a panoramic view of these temple and school at its peak of development.
– They were not very decorative but large, peaceful and sacred. The temple are were still opened twice per year in special occasions and students had to take the side doors.
– At the height of its development, the University had become a large institution, comprising 300 classrooms, a large lecture room, and a printing house. It also included a dorm quarter for students from provinces, a lake and several hectares of farmland in the front. The temple management assigned a nearby village to farm the land to raise money for rituals.

– In 1996, when they restore this area, they found a lot of vestige related to the daily life of students when they stay and study here.
* The new model? Why do we now call this temple one kind of culture centre?
– The Temple and the School area are turned into a cultural centre of Hanoi. As a symbol of Vietnamese education, there’re a lot of graduating party held in this area as a special honour for students.

– There’s also a lot of festivities happened here especially during the Lunar New Year festival: the bonsai market, exchanging Chinese characters and other traditional games like the cock fighting, or human chess (the Chinese chess but they replace the chess piece by boys and girls), which is very colorful and attractive.

–         Dismounted stelae; (bia Hạ Mã):

Normally, the King and mandarins sat inside palanquins or on the back of horses, but when they reached these stelae, both of them had to dismounted and walked on their feet to enter the temple, no exception, even the King. This action was set up to show respects to literature, and how important literature took part in residents’ lifestyle at that time.

“Crane standing on the back of tortoise”: there’re two common explanations:
+  It came from the local farmers’ memory. In the ancient time, when we didn’t have any dyke system, so every year the Red River Delta had to suffer from a flooded season. When everything was covered by water, the crane had to fly constantly without any stop and getting exhausted. Fortunately, they saw the back of tortoise floating on the water and can step on it for a short break. It might be common scenery of the wet rice cultivated farmers and they reflected this image in the religious architecture.

+ According to Chinese legends, the crane signifies ever green, the tortoise represents longevity. On the one hand, crane – flying stands for vertical whist tortoise stands for horizontal, so a crane standing on a tortoise’s back reflected the space.
This image symbolizes for friendship ‘cuz the tortoise saved the crane’s life

 Bài viết tham khảo tư liệu từ

Xin cho thêm một vài quan điểm cá nhân như sau:

1. Cái tên dịch ra tiếng Anh như thế đã chính xác chưa??? Văn Miếu (Thờ Khổng Tử)  được xây dựng cùng với 2 ngôi miếu khác là Võ Miếu (thờ Khương Tử Nha) và Y Miếu ( thờ ba vị thánh sáng lập ngành Đông y là Phục Hi, Thần Nông và Hoàng Đế cùng hai vị thánh y người Việt là Tuệ Tĩnh (thời Trần) và Lê Hữu Trác (thời hậu Lê). Văn Miếu do đó ý chỉ ngôi miếu thờ các vị Thánh của Nho gia, mà Đạo Khổng đâu chỉ có về văn học (literature), nên lấy cái tên literature e rằng khiến khách nước ngoài chưa hiểu hết cái ý nghĩa của ngồi miếu này. Nghĩ thời cần tìm một cái tên chính xác cho ngôi miếu này?

2. Đến Văn Miếu-Quốc Tử Giám, kể cả người Việt đôi khi cũng bị nhầm lần rằng đây chỉ là 1 khu, nhưng thực tế là gồm 2 khu riêng biệt. Đằng trước là miếu thờ Khổng Tử, phía sau là trường dành cho con vua chúa và sau này mở rộng ra cho những người có tố chất vào học.

3. Hỏi: tại sao ở vườn bia lại chia 2 tấm bia đặt riêng biệt trong 2 ngôi lầu nhỏ ở chính giữa hàng bia?

Đáp: Là do đó là 2 tấm bia đầu tiên được xây dựng.

4. Vua Lý Nhân Tông xây dựng Quốc Tử Giảm năm 1076, lúc này ông mới có 10 tuổi. Liệu một cậu bé 10 tuổi có nghĩ ra được ý tưởng xây dựng một trường học dành cho con cái quý tộc không. Có ý kiến cho rằng công xây dựng trường học này là của nguyên phi Ỷ Lan và Thái Sư Lý Đạo Thành.

5. Nói qua một chút về cái tên Thăng Long. Ở phần đầu có giải thích bằng truyền thuyết rồng vàng bay lên từ dòng sông, tuy nhiên vẫn còn một cách lý giải khác mà tôi cho rằng hợp lý hơn. Đó là cách đó mấy trăm năm khi Cao Biền được cử sang cai quản đất Thăng Long có đi trấn yểm nhiều nơi hòng triệt long mạch (cũng có một số nơi ông trấn yểm để có thể xây thành vững chắc). Ông chốt hạ bằng cách đặt tên cho kinh thành lúc bấy giờ tên là Đại La. Đại La nghĩa là một cái lưới lớn, cái lưới này có lẽ dùng để nhốt, kìm hãm cho con rồng khỏi bay lên, cũng khiến cho nhân tài đất Việt chẳng thể cất cánh. Khi Vua Lý Thái Tổ dời Kinh về đất này mới hiểu được ý nghĩa của cái tên đó nên đổi tên là Thăng Long, ý chỉ con rồng phá lưới bay vút lên trời cao. ý kiến này tôi tham khảo từ tác giả Chitto, một admin trên trang và cũng là người Thầy mà tôi rất kính mến.

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