We had a few hours before we needed to catch the train back to Suzhou, so we headed out through the hutongs and found the Confucius Temple that had just recently been opened to non-Chinese persons. Confucius’s theories have influenced and affected the course of Chinese thinking for over two thousand years. Though some say he never truly lived, Confucius was said to be born in 551BC and experienced poverty in the early part of his life, only managing to become a junior official through hard study. Disheartened with the chaos and disorder of the Zhou dynasty declining into the Warring States Period, Confucius created a system that would restore order. His philosophy was if the correct hierarchy was in place and individuals treated and respected one another according to this structure, then life would be harmonious. One of his sayings I like is ‘in a group of three, one can always find a teacher.’
This Confucius Temple is the largest outside of Qufu, the philosopher’s birthplace in the Shandong provice. First built in 1302 during the Mongol Yuan dynasty, the temple was expanded in 1906 in the reign of Emperor Guangxu. Today, around 200 ancient stelae stand in the silent courtyard in front of the main hall inscribed with the names of those who successfully passed the imperial civil service exams. Additional stelae are propped up on the backs of mythical animals called bixi (half tortoise and half dragon).
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