Preserving the Liangxiang Confucian Temple
Liangxiang Confucian Temple, as a cultural relic, has not only brought new life to the building, but also been at the forefront of cultural education.
Liangxiang Town, 20 kilometres southwest of Beijing, has been the southwest portal of the capital since ancient times. It was given the name Liangxiang (“good village”) when it became a county during the Qin Dynasty (221–206 BC), and since then has been known as a place of “good people and products.” As a haven for merchants, there are many historical stories about this town. Liangxiang also boasts a wealth of cultural heritage sites and many cultural relics, such as the Confucian Temple, Haotian Tower, the Tomb of Le Yi, and a temporary imperial residence during the Qing Dynasty (1644–1911).
In recent years, the Fangshan District Committee of Culture of Beijing Municipality has put great effort into protecting cultural relics and historic sites. After being renovated, the 400-year-old Confucian Temple in Liangxiang, whose Chinese name of Wen Miao literally means “temple of literature,” has regained its antique style and features. As a building that is open to the public and free of charge, it is also used as a lecture hall for the study of ancient Chinese civilisation and is part of the Library of Fangshan District. The temple's use as a cultural relic combined with its cultural services has not only brought new life to the building, but has also helped to bring cultural relics into modern life, putting the temple on the “frontline” of cultural transmission.
Resurrection of the Confucian Temple
As the seat of the Beijing Fangshan District Committee of the Communist Party of China and the Fangshan District People's Government of Beijing Municipality, Liangxiang features tall buildings and bustling businesses. East of the busy Gongchen South Street is an ancient building surrounded by trees: Liangxiang Confucian Temple.
Above the round red wooden gate of the Confucian Temple is a board that reads wen yuan (“literature garden”), and three other placards on the right mark this as a key cultural relic protection site
of Fangshan District. Entering the gate, there is a courtyard with green trees that provide welcome shade, an artificial hill with a flowing stream, and hollyhocks with beautiful flowers. The brick-paved courtyard makes an attractive contrast to the building's grey roof and red walls. Unlike the noisy street outside the temple walls, within the courtyard one only hears singing birds and sees fragrant flowers, making it easy for people to feel relaxed and peaceful.
The Confucian Temple is a school and temple where people can learn Confucian classics and commemorate the great philosopher and educator Confucius (551–479 BC), and is a cultural symbol of Confucianism.
According to historical records, Liangxiang Confucian Temple, also known as Xuegong (“school temple”), was built during the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644) on an area of about 1,000 square metres. At that time, there was a stone arched bridge at the gate, with stone railings and a pair of stone lions on both sides. Next to the bridge was a pond with lotuses growing in it. Crossing the bridge, people would come to three audience halls with platforms in front, and five side halls. Dacheng (“great achievement”) Hall was the main building and housed a memorial tablet to Confucius. Historical records show that the size of the Confucian Temple in ancient times was much larger than that of the present-day temple.
According to the Annals of Liangxiang County compiled during the reign of Emperor Guangxu (1875–1908), the temple was located in the southeast of the town and was built by County Magistrate Hong Yimo from 1577 to 1578. It was later renovated by county magistrates Zhang Shibiao, Zhang Hongyi, Yang Qiao and Peng Shichang in 1653, 1688, 1756 and 1836, respectively. However, the Eight-nation Alliance destroyed the temple in 1900 when they invaded Beijing. Over 400 years after its establishment, only Dacheng Hall still exists as the library of Liangxiang Middle School, while the other buildings are all gone. It was even closed for a period, which caused people to wonder what had happened when they passed by it.
In recent years, the State has been increasing its spending on cultural relic protection. The Beijing Municipal Administration of Cultural Heritage set a Special Protection Fund for Cultural Relics and Historical Sites in 2012, and has given 850 million yuan every year since then to protect and renovate cultural relics at the district and county levels. The Fangshan District Committee of Culture applied for more than 6,000,000 yuan of special funds for the renovation of Liangxiang Confucian Temple, thus ushering in the temple's seventh renovation. At the same time, work on the building was carried out to improve fire safety, install an intelligent security system, and repair the east hall, helping the temple to regain its ancient look while installing with modern facilities.
Since Liangxiang Confucian Temple opened to the public again in 2016, it is no longer just a tourist attraction but has become a complex integrating a teahouse, a library, a classroom for the study of ancient Chinese civilisation, and a garden. With a brand new meaning and new functions, the Confucian Temple has been brought back to life again.
Promoting Chinese Civilisation
The Confucian Temple was the highest institution at the county level in ancient times, and people needed to worship Confucius at Dacheng Hall before receiving an education. After the renovation, the Fangshan District Committee of Culture endowed Liangxiang Confucian Temple with a new mission—for Dacheng Hall to become a lecture hall for the study of ancient Chinese civilisation.
The unique cultural heritage of the Confucian Temple enables it to satisfy the needs of local people for culture. Fan Xihui, director of Wenyuan, says lectures on ancient Chinese civilisation are given in Dacheng Hall every Saturday from 9:30 to 11 a.m., and lectures on the art of tea are given at the same time in the side hall. In addition, the library is free for the public, with nearly 3,000 books on the study of ancient Chinese civilisation and 400 seats for reading.
At 9:30 a.m. on July 8, a total of 48 people, both young and old, sat in Dacheng Hall, listening to the lecture on the study of ancient Chinese civilisation and taking notes now and then. The lecture was given by Zhang Daqing, visiting professor of Tsinghua University and Peking University. Zhang said, “Numerology is an ancient and mysterious part of traditional Chinese culture. It includes the concept of yin-yang, the five elements of metal, wood, water, fire and earth, and the heavenly stems and earthly branches,” the latter being a Chinese way of numbering the years. Zhang's lecture conveyed both ancient
and modern learning combined with current affairs, and he introduced numerology and the study of ancient Chinese civilisation in a vivid, interesting and subtle way.
The first term's classes on the art of tea and ancient Chinese civilisation—16 classes in total with 24 class hours—have now concluded and were very popular, with all the seats occupied. The second term began on July 1 as scheduled. To carry forward and protect national culture, Professor Zhang has prepared comprehensive course materials. He believes that the study of ancient Chinese civilisation can stimulate the positive energy of contemporary people, as it summarises the best thinking of Chinese people's ancestors.
A lady surnamed Zhao said that she got to know about the classes by accident when she passed by the temple one day. To enrich her life after retirement, she decided to give it a shot and took the course. To her surprise, she was attracted by the study of ancient Chinese civilisation. She's become a frequent visitor and takes a class every weekend.
Coincidentally, a man surnamed Zhang had a similar experience as Zhao. Now he is also a student of the course on ancient Chinese civilisation. Moreover, he took his eight-year-old daughter with him to take the course, in the hopes that it can help his daughter shape a sound world view. This is also the first time for Zhang's daughter to take the course, and although some content is abstract for her, she likes the ancient beauty of the temple, which makes the course interesting. It's hard for her to understand the extensive and profound traditional Chinese culture limited to an hour and a half class, but she is already interested in it and said she will accompany her father to the class next weekend. There is no doubt that learning about ancient Chinese civilisation in this temple atmosphere is conducive to study.
The study of ancient Chinese civilisation and the ancient building rejuvenate each other. Under the joint efforts of the Publicity Department of Beijing Fangshan District Committee of the Communist Party of China, the Fangshan District Committee of Culture, the Fangshan District Centre of Cultural Activities and the Fangshan District Cultural Relic Protection Institute, the temple has become a place where the public can learn more about traditional Chinese culture. Its free courses are definitely a project that benefits the public.
Learning the Art of Tea
Though the Confucian Temple today isn't large, with only one courtyard, in the past it was the second largest building complex in Liangxiang after the county office, and it is the cultural symbol of the township. If the temple complex had not been repaired, a part of the 2,000-year history of Liangxiang would have been gone. Fortunately, now the temple serves as a place to promote ancient Chinese culture and the art of tea, making the past serve the present and attracting many residents nearby.
The tea art course combines the four seasons with tea products to help people learn more about tea and to understand the difference between the art of tea and daily tea drinking. The teacher tells students the dos and don'ts when they drink tea in different seasons, how to choose tea, and how to make tea to make it good for one's health. To make desirable tea, Tian Liping from the Chunchao Tea Culture Development Centre, shared her experience with students. Tian said that the tea ceremony came out of respect for nature, and that people should remember to think about life while making and drinking tea. Therefore, the art of tea and traditional Chinese culture are closely correlated with each other.
Inside the teahouse is a statue of Confucius made of white marble stone. Tian made tea deftly while telling stories about tea and truths about life. She said that the tea she was going to make was fresh Xinyang Maojian Tea. When brewing it, she reminded people to use a glass cup, so as to appreciate the elegant dance of the green tea leaves. Moreover, tea should steep for two to three minutes, with the water temperature at 70 to 80 degrees Celsius. The students carefully observed Tian's every action, and tried to remember every word. After making the tea and pouring it into a cup, Tian began to talk about the etiquette of drinking tea. For example, one should make sure the spout does not point to the guest in the process of making tea; one should hold the cup itself when passing it to others, so that the person one is passing it to can take it by the cup's handle; one should hold the teapot with the right hand when pouring tea for people who are on one's left, and
hold the teapot with the left hand when pouring tea for people who are on one's right, to reduce inconvenience to others.
After the art of tea course, a lady who had taken three classes said that she drove from the county seat of Fangshan District to take the class. She said that even if the course were not free, she would take it all the same, because she is interested in the art of tea and likes the ancient vibe at the temple. After taking three classes, she said she had learnt how to make tea and learnt some truths about life. Once, she was passing a cup of tea to another person, but the cup was so hot that she nearly dropped it. Therefore, she asked her teacher what she was supposed to do in such a situation. The teacher told her just to try to endure it. She suddenly realised that life is natural, and that people should learn to endure many things. The lady learnt about her own life through the art of making tea. After that, she brought her friend and colleague to take the course. The art of tea, together with traditional culture and life's truths, offers students much wisdom and an opportunity for self-cultivation.
The courses on ancient Chinese civilisation and the art of tea in Liangxiang Confucian Temple have become unexpectedly popular even without extensive promotion, showcasing the success of the city's cultural projects aimed to benefit the public. Director Fan said that he had worried that nobody would take the courses at the very beginning. To his surprise, many people showed interest in the courses. Currently, more people are coming to the temple to take classes, to appreciate the ancient architecture, and to learn about traditional Chinese culture. In this way, culture benefits people, and people likewise promote culture.
An Ancient Building for Present Purposes
The ancient Liangxiang Confucian Temple has now become a place that aims to promote the study of ancient Chinese civilisation, achieving both self-protection and the creation of humanistic values in society. However, it isn't the first and only case of combining cultural relic protection and social service—fangshan District made other breakthroughs in 2012.
Jia Dao (AD 779–843), a renowned Tang-dynasty poet, was born in presentday Zhoukoudian Town, Fangshan District. Therefore, there are many scenes and stories related to Jia Dao in Fangshan, among which the most famous two are the tomb and the memorial temple of Jia Dao. In 1698, the Jiagong (Jia Dao) Memorial Temple was built by Luo Zaigong, the magistrate of Fangshan County at that time. It is situated beside Jia's tomb in the south of Erzhan Village.
On April 23, 2012, the 17th World Book Day, the Wenbo Branch of the Fangshan District Library and the Jia Dao Memorial Hall were opened at the Jiagong Memorial Temple. The east hall, called Wenjing Liuyuan, has become a book collection room of the library branch, while the west hall, called Yunfeng Xiying, has become a reading room of the library. The event received broad attention, and many institutions and individuals, including Shan Qixiang (head of the Palace Museum), Yu Dan (a professor of media studies) and Jiang Kun (a crosstalk comedian), donated books about cultural relics and historical research to the library's branch. Currently, the Wenbo Branch has received a total of nearly 30,000 books.
The branch has been connected to the “one card” service network—beijing's public library computer service network— since 2013, allowing for the inter-lending of books. Aside from the book borrowing and reading functions, the Wenbo Branch also provides an open platform for the education, display, creation and sharing of calligraphy and painting.
Cultural relics are the remains of history and culture, and only modern management concepts can make them better adapted to the needs of modern people and give them better protection. Combining the utilisation of cultural relics with the protection of the Confucian Temple and the Jiagong Memorial Temple actually makes better use of these cultural relics. In the meantime, as more people learn about ancient buildings, a new method of cultural relic protection and utilisation now known as the “Fangshan Model” has taken shape, providing enlightening and practical measures in innovating cultural systems and improving cultural services for the public.
Teaching a class on ancient Chinese civilisation
The renovated Dacheng (“great achievement”) Hall as a lecture hall for studyig ancient Chinese civilisation
Teaching a class on the art of tea
Teaching a class on ancient Chinese civilisation