Today we made a visit to the Temple of Literature in Hanoi.  This place of reverence and learning is a place of pilgrimage for many in Hanoi and the surrounding areas.  I find this very interesting in this supposed atheist, non religious country.  The temple was built as early as 1442 as the first Confucian Academy of higher learning in Vietnam. Students who studied at the academy were allowed to take the Confucian exams necessary for admission to the elite status of Mandarin with the privilege of becoming a high level administrator or bureaucrat in the system of Chinese colonial domination over Vietnam. The academy existed until 1913 when the French ended the academy. 



When a student was attempting to become a Mandarin, he went through three levels of exams.  The exams were given at the provincial and then national level and a student had to pass exams in Confucian literature and philosophy, with each test lasting 35 days. Only after successfully completing all three rounds of the exams was the student named Doctor.  On average, of the 6,000 students who began the process in a given year, only 15-25 passed all three levels of exams six years later. Once having been recognized as Doctor, the student’s name and the village he was from was inscribed on a stone chair in one of the courtyards where the Mandarin’s  ceremonially gathered. 



interestingly today parents and students come from all over the country to pray and bring offerings to the temple.  Parents come and offer sacrifices for their children and students come to pray to pass the national high school exams which determine what areas of study a student is able to pursue as an undergraduate. Thus regardless of the official position of atheism, Vietnam has never stopped praying to ancestors and worshipping at temples.  Over Vietnam’s history there was always an understanding that the king’s rule ended at the village.  The village was organized around ancestor worship which formed the central organizational idea for society itself; one’s relationship to the land, their understanding of identity and possibilities were mediated through the ancestors.  Obligations for children and parents revolved around obligations to the elders and the ancestors.

Although the majority of prayers and worship happen in the home at the alter for ancestors, there are also temples outside of the home people make journeys to in order to worship for some specific area- in this case education. 

So this is Vietnam-  continuity.   Worship of ancestors and at temples has survived colonialism, war, communism and globalization.




2 Responses to “continuity”

  1. 1 Martin Tracey
    June 18, 2013 at 6:41 pm

    What a rich post–thank you!

    I’d never seen chairs like those stone chairs. From their shape, I imagine they are designed for sitting cross-legged. Is that right?

    • June 18, 2013 at 10:07 pm

      Great question- truth is I don’t know, but the way the stone is worn on several, I would say they sat like they were riding a horse- or turtle!! Mr. Cha is taking us around today, I will ask him- stay tuned

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