Temple of Confucius or Confucian temple (simplified Chinese: >孔庙; traditional Chinese: >孔廟) is a temple devoted to the memory of Confucius and the sages and philosophers of Confucianism.
The largest and oldest Temple of Confucius is found in Confucius`s hometown, present-day Qufu in Shandong Province. It was established in 479 BC, one year after Confucius`s death, at the order of the Duke Ai of the State of Lu, who commanded that the Confucian residence should be used to worship and offer sacrifice to Confucius. The temple was expanded repeatedly over a period of more than 2,000 years until it became the huge complex currently standing.
The development of state temples devoted to the cult of Confucius was an outcome of his gradual canonisation. In 195 BC, Han Gao Zu, founder of the Han Dynasty (r. 206–195 BC), offered a sacrifice to the spirit of Confucius at his tomb in Qufu. Sacrifices to the spirit of Confucius and that of Yan Hui, his most prominent disciple, began in the Imperial University (Biyong) as early as 241.
In 454, the first state Confucian temple was built by the Liu Song dynasty of south China (420 to 479). In 489, the Northern Wei constructed a Confucian temple in the capital, the first outside of Qufu in the north. In 630, the Tang Dynasty decreed that schools in all provinces and counties should have a Confucian temple, as a result of which temples spread throughout China. Well-known Confucian shrines include the Confucian Temple in Jianshui, the Confucian Temple in Xi`an (now the Forest of Steles), the Fuzi Miao in Nanjing, and the Confucian Temple in Beijing, first built in 1302.
In addition to Confucian temples associated with the state cult of Confucius, there were also ancestral temples belonging to the Kong lineage, buildings commemorating Confucius`s deeds throughout China, and private temples within academies.
Beginning in the Tang dynasty (618-907), Confucian temples were built in prefectural and county schools throughout the empire, either to the front of or on one side of the school. The front gate of the temple is called the Lingxing Gate (simplified Chinese: >棂星门; traditional Chinese: >欞星門). Inside there are normally three courtyards, although sometimes there are only two. However, the complex in Qufu has nine courtyards containing scores of steles commemorating visits by an emperor or imperial grants of noble titles upon descendants of Confucius. The main building, situated in the inner courtyard with entry via the Dachengmen (simplified Chinese: >大成门; traditional Chinese: >大成門), is called the Dachengdian (Chinese: >大成殿), variously translated as "Hall of Great Achievement", "Hall of Great Completion", or "Hall of Great Perfection". In imperial China, this hall housed the Spirit Tablets (Chinese: >神位) of Confucius and those of other important sages (simplified Chinese: >圣; traditional Chinese: >聖) and worthies (simplified Chinese: >贤; traditional Chinese: >賢). In front of the Dachengdian in Qufu is the Apricot Pavilion or Xingtan (simplified Chinese: >杏坛; traditional Chinese: >杏壇). Another important building behind the main building is the Shrine of Adoring the Sage (Chongshengci simplified Chinese: >崇圣祠; traditional Chinese: >崇聖祠), which honoured the ancestors of Confucius and the fathers of the Four Correlates and Twelve Philosophers.
Unlike Daoist or Buddhist temples, Confucian temples do not normally have images. In the early years of the temple in Qufu, it appears that the spirits of Confucius and his disciples were represented with wall paintings and clay or wooden statues. Official temples also contained images of Confucius himself. However, there was opposition to this practice, which was seen as imitative of Buddhist temples. It was also argued that the point of the imperial temples was to honour Confucius`s teachings, not the man himself.
The lack of unity in likenesses in statues of Confucius first led Emperor Taizu of the Ming dynasty to decree that all new Confucian temples should contain only spirit tablets and no images. In 1530, it was decided that all existing images of Confucius should be replaced with spirit tablets in imperial temples in the capital and other bureaucratic locations, a rule still followed today. However, statues remained in temples operated by Confucius`s family descendants, such as that in Qufu.
The state cult of Confucius centred upon offering sacrifices to Confucius`s spirit in the Confucian temple.
A dance known as the Eight-Row Dance, consisting of eight columns of eight dancers each, was also performed. Originally this was a Six-Row Dance, as performed for the lesser aristocracy, but in 1477 Confucius was allowed the imperial honour of the eight-row dance since he posthumously received the title of king.
In addition to worshipping Confucius, Confucian temples also honoured the "Four Correlates" (四配), the "Twelve Philosophers" (十二哲), and other disciples and Confucian scholars through history. The composition and number of figures worshipped changed and grew through time. Since temples were a statement of Confucian orthodoxy, the issue of which Confucians to enshrine was a controversial one.
By the Republican period (20th century), there were a total of 162 figures worshipped. The Four Correlates include Yan Hui, Zeng Shen, Kong Ji, and Mencius. The Twelve Philosophers are Min Zijian, Ran Boniu, Zhong Gong, Cai Wo, Zi-gong, Ran You, Zi-Lu, Zi-You, Zi-Xia, Zi-Zhang, You Ruo, and Zhu Xi. A list of disciples of Confucius and their place in the Confucian temple can be found at Disciples of Confucius.