The Cult of Confucius:Images of the Temple
"Confucianism" is a tradition that traces its
beginnings to an educated elite called shi of late antiquity
that advised royal and regional feudal authorities during
the Zhou dynasty (1134-250 B.C.) on governing, which emphasized
the importance of virtuous rule through benevolence and proper
conduct called ritual (li). The most prominent figure of this
educated elite was a man named Kong Qiu (551 to 479 B.C.),
usually referred to as Master Kong (Kong-fu zi or Kongzi).
In the West, Kongzi is called Confucius, a name given him
by Jesuit missionaries in the sixteenth century. Kongzi was
born in the Watch Tower (Queli) district of Qufu, then the
capital of the state of Lu of the Zhou kingdom. Kongzi was
the son of Shuliang He, who, according to some sources, was
a descendant of a prestigious lessor branch of a ducal lineage
of the neighboring state of Song. Kongzi was raised by his
mother, Yan Zhengzai after his father died before he was three.
During much of the imperial era of Chinese history, the teachings
and ritual practices of Confucianism occupied a privileged
status in the education and training of the men who served
in the civil bureaucracy. The precise ways in which the government
expressed its preference for Confucianism over competing schools,
and the extent to which the state actually adhered to Confucian
doctrine, waxed and waned significantly during the course
of the last two thousand years. Although Confucius enjoyed
a certain notoriety during his own lifetime, it was not until
the Han (206 B.C.-A.D. 220) that rulers began to distinguish
his teachings from those of other thinkers of the Zhou dynasty
by canonizing Confucianism as an officially favored teaching.
The canonization of Confucianism was a gradual and complex
process that involved several different types of official
acts and proclamations that were not always consistently applied.
Perhaps the most signal act that effected this canonization
was in 136 B.C., when the Han emperor Wu (r. 141-87 B.C.),
acting on the advice of Dong Zhongshu (ca. 179-104 B.C.),
eliminated all court positions of canonical scholars called
Erudites who taught non-Confucian books, in effect establishing
Confucianism as the sole teaching of the imperial court. The
court's privileging of the "Confucian canon" became
a critical part of the establishment of Confucianism as orthodoxy
in the Song (960-1279), with the emergence of the civil service
examination system as the most important means of appointment
to positions in the bureaucracy.
Besides promoting a specific curriculum in the examination
halls, the court also articulated its understanding of Confucian
orthodoxy in a temple called the Kong temple, or the Temple
of Culture. Here the spirits of Kongzi, his disciples, and
later canonical exegetes and "transmitters of the Way"
were enshrined and received sacrifices from representatives
of the emperor. The question of which Confucians of later
ages would be enshrined in the temple was controversial because
it raised such issues as which commentaries on the Confucian
canon were acceptable and, by the Song, who was believed to
have received the true transmission of the Dao from Kongzi
and Mengzi (Mencius). A basic chronology of enshrinement shows
the gradual canonization of the Dao School version of the
Confucian tradition, beginning in the 1240s and particularly
by Ming times.
The imperial court promoted Confucianism by posthumously
ennobling Kongzi, first as duke and later as king. In addition
to elevating the figure of Kongzi to ever greater status,
emperors also conferred hereditary titles of nobility upon
his descendants, initially as marquises, and by Song times
as dukes; a position Kongzi's descendants held until the 1940s.
Critical to this careful attention to the person of Kongzi
as the embodiment of the literati tradition was the state
cult, which centered upon offering sacrifices to Kongzi's
spirit in the Kong temple.
The sacrifices to the spirit of Kongzi was part of a larger
system of cult sacrifices to other gods and spirits. This
pantheon was headed by Heaven, to which only the emperor offered
sacrifices at an altar in the southern suburbs of the imperial
city, followed by Earth, which received sacrifices at an altar
in the northern suburbs.
An important event in the canonizing process occurred in
195 B.C., when the founding emperor of the Han dynasty, Han
Gaozu (r. 206-195 B.C.), offered a Great Sacrifice to the
spirit of Confucius at his tomb in Qufu. As early as 241,
sacrfices to the spirits of Kongzi and his most prominent
disciple, Yan Hui, were offered in the Imperial University
(Biyong). The first state temple devoted to Kongzi was built
in the Liu-Song, which ruled over south China from 420 to
479. The Confucius temple in Beijing was first built in 1302,
and was periodically repaired and rebuilt during the Ming
(1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) dynasties. Beginning in the
Tang era, and particularly from Song times on, the state sacrifices
to Confucius in the capital became increasingly complex and
closely regulated by an official liturgy.
When the founder of the Southern Song dynasty reestablished
the capital in Lin'an (modern Hangzhou), an imperial Confucius
Temple was constructed. Kongzi's forty-eighth generation descendant,
Duke Kong Duanyou, followed the Song emperor, and established
the southern Kong lineage. By 1136 the Kongs settled in Quzhou,
Quzhou, Zhejiang, where they converted the local school temple
into a temple operated by Kongzi's descendants. Later a family
temple honoring Kongzi was established at a nearby lake. Around
1279, when the Southern Song fell, this temple was destroyed
by fire, and was not rebuilt until 1407. The present day Quzhou
Confucius temple was moved to its current location in 1520.
According to most accounts, a temple honoring Kongzi was
built in his hometown in 478 B.C. (17th year of Duke Ai of
Lu), a year after his death. The sources suggest that, since
the early years of this temple, the spirits of Kongzi and
his disciples were represented with wall paintings and clay
or wooden statues. After years of court debate, it was decided
in 1530 that these spirits would not be represented by an
iconic image of his likeness in the imperial temples in the
capital and other bureaucratic locations. Opponents of iconic
representations of Kongzi argued that such statues copied
Buddhist practices of temple worship and also tended to confuse
ritual ideas in ancestral sacrifice. They argued that imperial
temples were constructed to honor Kongzi's teachings, not
just the spirit of the flesh-and-blood man. The statues of
Kongzi were removed from official temples, but they remained
in the temples operated by Kongzi's family descendants, such
as this statue of Kongzi in the Main Hall of Great Completion
of the Confucius Temple in Qufu.
Evidence suggests that as early as the eleventh century,
Confucius temples had rooms to pay sacrifices to Confucius'
father Shuliang He, and in 1048, a hall was built for this
purpose. During the Yuan and Ming dynasties, ritualists explored
the connection between the family cult of Confucius' descendants
and the state cult of Confucius. When Shuliang He was posthumously
honored as Duke who Gave Birth to the Sage, shrines called
the Shrine for the Duke who Gave Birth to the Sage (Qisheng
ci) were constructed to honor Confucius' father. The shrine
in Qufu pictured here, was located immediately west of the
Hall of Great Completion in 1729. The Qufu shrine has fallen
into disrepair and is currently undergoing renovation; pictured
here is the spirit statue of Shuliang He.
Bibliography of sources on Confucius, his cult, and the intellectual
traditions that trace their origins to him
Appendix A. "Confucianism"
The word "Confucianism" is a sixteenth-century Jesuit
conceit that purports to be a translation of a Chinese term.
The most common Chinese term for what Westerners call Confucianism,
however, is more felicitously rendered the "School of
the Learned" (Ru jia). This educated Ru group may have
emerged within lower echelons of the aristocracy as early
as the Shang (1766-1027 B.C.), but it was apparently not understood
as a distinctive school of thought until relatively late.
The three most prominent figures of the early "School
of the Learned" -- viz., Confucius (Kongzi), Mencius
(Mengzi), and Xunzi -- did not use it to name their tradition.
They tended to speak, instead, of the "Way of the Gentleman,"
not so much as a name for a philosophical tradition than as
a paragon of one who embodied virute in his conduct. In one
of the earliest histories of ancient Chinese philosophy, Sima
Tan (d. 110 B.C.) names the "School of the Learned"
(or Ru jia) among other competing philosophical schools in
order to demonstrate that only the School of the Way and Potency
(usually referred to as Daoism) can encompass the strengths
of all schools. The division of the philosophical masters
and their followers of the late Zhou into discrete schools
gained greater currency in the Han when Sima Tan's essay appeared
in the Historical Records, begun under his editorship and
completed by his son, Sima Qian. Even in Liu Xiang's (77-6
B.C.) more "Confucian" essay summarizing seven schools
of the late Zhou, one is struck by a concern that Kongzi's
followers had splintered rather than unified this school.
Liu distinguishes among 103 schools of Kongzi's followers,
divided according to different exegetical traditions of the
Confucian canon. Two other terms to refer to this school were
coined in Sima Qian's Historical Records: the "forest
of the learned" (ru lin), which became the standard term
in most subsequent dynastic histories, and Ru Learning, which,
along with Ru jia, is commonly used today to refer to Confucianism.