Session 45: On Sacred Grounds: The Material Culture and Ritual Formation of the Confucian Temple in Late Imperial China


Organizer: Thomas A. Wilson, Hamilton College
Chair and Discussant: Susan Naquin, Princeton University

Studies of Confucianism have generally focused on such issues as metaphysical debates, its role in the articulation of a hierarchical social structure, or the growth of Confucian hegemony through the civil service examination system. While these questions are important in understanding the complexities of Confucianism, scholars have tended to overlook one of the most concrete signs in imperial times of the dominance of Confucianism in society: the Confucian temple (Kongmiao or wenmiao). As the throne became increasingly ensnared in the formation of Confucianism through canonization of the classics for the civil service examination curriculum, the Confucian Temple and rituals performed there also became a critical mode by which the throne participated in sectarian disputes over the nature of Confucianism. Court proclamations on which Confucians were to be enshrined in the temple indicate that before the Ming, the throne resisted calls to canonize a narrowly Cheng Zhu conception of Confucianism. It was not until the Ming that the throne canonized an exclusionary Cheng Zhu version of the tradition in the temple, which is evident in the Jiajing emperor's (r. 1522-66) temple reforms of 1530, when a number of Confucian exegetes were removed from the temple for secreting heresies into the canon.

In this panel, the Confucian Temple will be examined in a number of different contexts-from several disciplinary approaches-in order to shed light on how the temple was situated in Chinese culture. The temple was not exclusively the location of a state cult and imperial sacrifices to Confucius as the "ultimate sage" of literati culture. It was also the site of an ancestral cult supervised by descendants of Confucius who performed sacrifices to his spirit as the progenitor of the Kong lineage. The Kongs of Qufu ruled over the oldest feudal manor in the empire, yet beginning in 1127 there were two Kong lineages: the northern lineage that remained in Qufu under Kong Duancao after the Ruzhen conquest of China, and the southern lineage of Quzhou, Zhejiang, established by Duancao's elder brother, Kong Duanyou, who fled the north with Song Gaozong. Thomas A. Wilson scrutinizes conflicting claims of descent from the Sage between the northern and southern Kong lineages in the Yuan and Ming. Despite official pretense that the rituals performed in the temple were of classical origins, there were no imperial Confucian temples or rituals until the Tang. The rites were, therefore, of relatively late provenance, and in Ming times officials were increasingly concerned with the eradication of any remnants of Buddhist appearances or practices. Deborah A. Sommer examines a critical component of the rites: the physical representation of the body of Confucius in statues, which were removed from Confucian temples by imperial decree during the 1530 temple reforms. Yet during this emerging Confucian iconoclasm, the urge to represent the life of Confucius and the miracles attendant upon his birth and death produced several series of annotated pictures of the Sage analogous to the pictorial biographies of the Buddha. What was the purpose of such visually detailed illustrations of the birth, life, and death of Confucius at a time when the consensus at court apparently led in the opposite direction toward the eradication of imaging the physical person of the Sage? Julia K. Murray traces the recensions of "Pictures of the Sage's Traces" from their appearance in the mid-fifteenth century, culminating in the much expanded version of 1592 that was eventually "enshrined" in the ancestral temple of the Kong lineage in Qufu, Shandong. Then there is the matter of the temple itself. The Confucian temple resembles structures in other architectural traditions, particularly those connected with the sacrificial functions of the imperial mausoleum or religious ceremonies of Buddhism and Daoism. Yet, what exactly is the connection between Confucian and other architectural paradigms? Nancy Shatzman Steinhardt delineates a distinctively Confucian paradigm originating in Qufu and compares it with temple building in other parts of China.

Contending Constructions of the Lineages of the Sage's Descendants

Thomas A. Wilson, Hamilton College

When the Song emperor Gaozong (r. 1127-62) fled the invading Ruzhen nomads and established the Southern Song court in present day Hangzhou, Duke Kong Duanyou also fled with a handful of kin and settled in Quzhou in central Zhejiang. After Duanyou, 48th generation descendant of Confucius, relocated the Kong lineage's ancestral shrine in Quzhou, his descendants passed on the ducal title for 150 years under the authority of Southern Song court. Left behind in Qufu was Duanyou's younger brother Kong Duancao, who, after the Ruzhen established the Jin dynasty in 1128, was appointed "provisional" duke and his descendants passed on the ducal title in Qufu for another 130 years under authority of the Jin. When the Mongols reunited the empire in 1282, the emperor asked Duke Kong Zhu of Quzhou to return to his ancestral lands in Shandong and resume his position as duke of all Kongs in Qufu. Kong Zhu declined on grounds that his ancestors had lived in the south for several generations and he could not bear to leave his parents' grave, thereby giving sole possession of the ducal title to the northern lineage. This begins the split of the Kongs into northern and southern lineages (zong).

After Kong Zhu ceded his ducal title, the southern Kongs fell into near oblivion; its members virtually ignored in subsequent histories. For example, in his Genealogy of Master Kong's Hereditary Household (1684), Kong Shangren delineates sixty households (hu) of twenty branches (pai )-nearly 11,000 persons in all-of the Sage's descendants, yet does not mention any of the southern Kongs. Indeed, all Kongs who move away from Qufu drop out of the genealogy entirely, as if the very ground upon which the Sage had walked was itself sacred. The use of genealogies to legitimate one branch over its competitors was not new among the Sage's descendants. In his Broad Record of the Kong Family's Ancestral Court (1227), Kong Yuancuo glosses over the discontinuity from Duanyou to his ducal successor, whom Yuancuo lists as Kong Fan (Duancao's own great grandfather) appointed duke of the northern Kongs in 1133. Kong Yuancuo, who was quite meticulous about listing names of each duke's sons, is suddenly silent about Duanyou's son, second duke of southern Kong lineage, which, by Yuancuo's reckoning, apparently ends with Duanyou. Without mentioning the separation of the northern and southern Kongs, Yuancuo constructs a seamless lineage from Master Kong to himself.

The Quzhou Kongs reemerged from their southern oblivion in the late Hongzhi reign (1488-1505), to request from the court a hereditary title of erudite of the Five Classics. This provoked a dispute between the northern and southern lineages in which the northerner Kong Fuwen charged the southern Kongs of falsifying the genealogical record in order to gain concessions from the court. In this paper, I shall also raise such questions as What are the implications when two descendants perform sacrifices under the aegis of competing ruling houses in the twelfth century? What happened to the rituals performed at the southern Kong temple in Quzhou when the throne withdrew its patronage after the demise of the Southern Song?

Spirit and Image in the Iconography of Confucius

Deborah A. Sommer, Butler University

As early as the T'ang dynasty, painted and sculpted images of Confucius and of other luminaries of the literati tradition were given sacrificial offerings at the imperial court. In the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries, however, some scholars began to question the use of images in this context and advocated the immediate destruction of the clay images of the famous literati enshrined in the Confucian temple at the Imperial Academy: the images should be dissolved in water, they advised, and the resulting paste used to paint pictures of clouds and mountains on the walls of the temple. Spirit tablets bearing the names and titles of the literati should replace the sculpted images, they argued, and their titles themselves should be much simplified from their former grandiose appellations. These measures were eventually adopted in the Chia ching era of the Ming.

But why destroy the images in the Imperial Academy and grind the Sage into mud? In attempting to shed light on this question, this paper explores some of the religious beliefs underlying the use of various kinds of images in the sacrificial rites of the literati tradition. It considers concepts of spiritual beings, notions of sacrifice, problems of depicting spirits in visual form, and relationships between human sacrificer, visual image, and numinous spirit.

Thinkers who wanted to destroy the images of Confucius and his followers based their arguments in part on the use of portraits in ancestor worship, a practice that assumed connections of consanguinity between sacrificer and spirit. The continuity of blood and ch'i from one life to the next established a connection of physical resemblance between sacrificer and spirit in ancestor worship; this resemblance in ancient sacrificial rites had informed the role of the personator of the dead and the practice of inducing lifelike visions of deceased ancestors in the preparatory vigils of sacrifice.

In Ming rites at the Confucian temple at the Imperial Academy, however, no such resemblance obtained between the emperor and the spirit of Confucius, or between the contrived image of the Sage (which was the product of the artisan's imagination) and the age's ineffable spirit itself, which was mysterious beyond ordinary understanding. Some Ming thinkers believed that the ritual tradition of antiquity, which they perceived as an aniconic tradition that served invisible numinous spirits, had over the centuries been profaned by image worshipping practices imported by the foreign tradition of Buddhism. By destroying statues of Confucius, they could in part reverse this decay and revivify the Way of Confucius, which was to be internalized and embodied in living human behavior, not externalized within the artificial, inanimate body of a three dimensional icon.

The Temple of Confucius and Pictorial Biographies of the Sage

Julia K. Murray, University of Wisconsin

The ancient philosopher Confucius was represented in iconic portraits from the Han period onward, but multi scene narrative illustrations of his life were created only in the middle Ming period. The pictorial biography, known as Sheng chi t'u (Pictures of the Sage's Traces), originated with a set of 29 or 34 pictures that were compiled, annotated, and carved on stone tablets by the censor Chang K'ai in 1444. Subsequently, the Sheng chi t'u was enlarged several times in woodblock printed editions that appeared in the middle and late Ming period. The successive additions of new scenes may reflect shifts in official and popular conceptions of Confucius and in the treatment of his cult, as well as a deliberate manipulation of his image for polemical purposes in the factional struggles among officials and between officials and eunuchs.

In 1530, the Chia ching emperor ordered Confucian temples around the empire to substitute inscribed wooden tablets for their anthropomorphic icons of Confucius, his disciples, and later worthies. The only temple exempted from this decree was the Temple of Confucius in Ch' fu, which was allowed to keep its images because it was also the ancestral temple of the K'ung family. In the decades following the "iconoclasm," many pictorial biographies of Confucius were published, including new editions and commercial reprints of Sheng chi t'u, as well as other works that invoked the theme of Confucius's life. The popularity of the subject in the 16th century suggests that such publications (and occasional sets of paintings based on them) were intended to compensate in some way for the removal of icons from Confucian temples by restoring direct "access" to the sage. These later sets also typically provided subtle aids to the viewer, such as a title on each illustration and fuller citations of dates, and most of them did away with the poetic eulogies that accompanied the scenes in early editions.

But, as narrative pictures, the illustrated biographies functioned differently from icons, most notably because they conveyed far more information and more explicit meanings than iconic portraits. Furthermore, the pictorial biographies were portable and could be viewed in private surroundings at any time; in contrast, the icons had been kept in temples and were seen by scholars/officials only on prescribed ceremonial occasions. Thus the pictorial biographies offered a kind of experience that the icons had never provided.

In 1592 a 112 scene pictorial biography was carved on stone tablets and installed in the Sheng chitien, a new building on the main axis of the Ch' fu temple. According to contemporary documents, this major undertaking was intended to serve several purposes: to gather and preserve the pictorial record of Confucius's life from various woodblocks (for printing) that were scattered around the temple; to establish a site where visitors could be inspired by a vivid experience of seeing moral principles embodied in Confucius's life; and to affirm the temple itself as a site with a long and prestigious history. The enshrinement of the pictorial biography within the Ch' fu temple formally acknowledges that the purpose of the pictorial biography was distinct from that of the icons nearby in the Ta ch'eng tien. Moreover, the event served to authenticate and endorse this hagiography of the sage. The set of pictures in the Sheng-chi-tien became authoritative, and later editions of the pictorial biography are excerpts from this corpus.

Confucian Architecture as a Paradigm: A Building Tradition beyond Qufu

Nancy Shatzman Steinhardt, Pennsylvania University

This paper begins by asking if one can define standard forms or established criteria for Confucian shrine architecture in China. In seeking such an architectural paradigm we shall first look at information about the earliest shrines to Confucius at Qufu and, more generally, to details of pre Song Confucian construction outside of his birthplace.

From here the paper turns to architecture built for Confucius or his disciples in Qufu during the Song dynasty. These building complexes, to the extent that information is available about them, will be compared to contemporary temple complex architecture in China. The purpose will be to isolate what can be called "purely Confucian." It will be suggested that although the most significant distinctions between Confucian, Daoist, or Buddhist architecture are evident only when one enters a Song individual hall, by this time large Confucian building complexes were also distinct from similarly sized Buddhist or Daoist ones.

The focus for establishing the paradigm of Confucian construction will be the Confucian Temple in Qufu during the Ming and Qing periods. Through an examination of these buildings the Confucian tradition in architecture will be shown to be fully allied with the imperial (palatial and funerary) buildings systems of China and much less part of religious construction except for monasteries of imperial patronage. From here it will be evident why Confucian architecture became a paradigm.

Evidence of the paradigm in non Confucian architecture will be presented through an obvious example, the Guandi Temple in Yuncheng. It will also be shown for the Qing version of the Kaifeng synagogue. Yet, the paradigm does not apply to mosque or church construction in the Ming and Qing periods. The final issue raised in this paper is why this paradigm is relevant to Jewish architecture but not to Christian or Islamic building complexes.

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