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Wenmiao Temple (built 1290s, 1855, late 20th century onward)

The Shanghai Confucian temple (Wen Miao) has had a long, though troubled, history. Even before Shanghai was established as a town in 1267 there was a statue of the Great Teacher and a place to study Confucian texts at the Zitong Clan Temple. The construction of a new temple dedicated to Confucius began during the Yuan Dynasty after Shanghai was upgraded to county status in 1292. It was completed in 1296 and thereafter served both as the place where locals could pay tribute to Confucius and as the center for Confucian studies and learning.

For many centuries the temple served as Shanghai�s highest institution of learning. It was moved to various locations four times until it was finally erected at its current location just off Zhonghua Lu in the Nanshi District (recently merged into the Huangpu District) in 1855. It is in one of Shanghai�s significant older traditional areas, though the remnants of the past are rapidly disappearing, and is Shanghai�s only historic Confucian temple to combine worship and study of the Great Sage. The temple area is also important for its book fairs and used book market and as a major area of book publishing. The market on Sundays is especially lively.

During the Taiping rebellion in the mid-19th century, Wen Miao housed a pro-Taiping element of the Small Swords Society led by Liu Lichuan; his headquarters was in the temple�s Ming Lun Hall. Much of the temple was destroyed; locals raised funds to rebuild it. The temple also suffered much during the cataclysms that impacted Shanghai in the 20th century; especially disastrous was official opposition to Confucian traditions and the destruction wrought by the Red Guards during the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976); it also served as a Children�s Palace. Most of the current structures at the site were rebuilt or restored in the 1990s and completed by 1999 as part of the 2,550th birthday celebration of Confucius.

There are two distinct north-south vertical paths or segments in the temple; a third additional path, the eastern segment, also contains a three-story pagoda from the 18th century, a garden and a market area.

The first path is the worshipping, or sacrifice-offering, line that stretches from the southern Ling Xing Gate, the main public entry on Wen Miao Lu, though the Da Cheng Gate to the main building, the Da Cheng Hall. Flanking these structures are a series of buildings housing modest souvenir shops and halls containing Ming and Qing tablets. The Da Cheng Hall sets in a place of honor on a low platform. On the east side of the platform is the Da Cheng Bell, which dates from 2000, and on either side of the front are the traditional wish or prayer boards. The interior contains a seated statue of the Great Sage carved from a camphor tree; it was once flanked by smaller standing figures of two additional sages, two of his 72 students. In 2004 these were replaced with a drum and set of bells. On the walls are gray stone tablets with carvings of the entire Analects, records of his teachings that his disciples compiled.

The second path begins with the Study (Xue) Gate at the southern end (historically not open to the public); only scholars who passed the nation level examination could pass through it. To the north of the Xue Gate is the Etiquette (Yi) Gate. Only those who were properly dressed could pass through its portal. Further to the north on this second path is the Ming Lun Hall, a former lecture hall that is now used as a museum for root carvings. Beyond the Ming Lun Hall to the north is the Zun Jing Pavilion. In earlier days it was a library of various volumes of the Confucian Classics; now it houses an exhibition of fanciful Ling Bi stones from Anhui Province. Along the Xuan corridors in this second path are commemorations of the 279 Shanghai jinshi (scholars who were successful in the highest imperial examinations), a variety of ancient tablets and a number of unique stones.

The third path, the eastern, is dominated by nature. At the southern end is the attractive hexagonal three-story 66 ft (20 m) Kui Xing Pagoda, honoring the god of study and literature. It is the oldest structure on the grounds and is set amidst an attractive small garden. Originally built in 1730, the pagoda was restored in 1855; it survived most of the destruction brought by the Cultural Revolution. Further to the north is a reflecting pond with several Lingbi stones. At the north edge of the pond is the Ruxue Shu, a former Confucian classroom that is now used as a display area for a collection of more than 400 teapots.

Although lacking in buildings of antiquity, the Wen Miao provides an interesting introduction to historic Confucian architecture. The Wen Miao, as the only Confucian temple in Shanghai, also serves as a quiet retreat in the midst of an active and bustling old town neighborhood. The areas near the temple, especially to the north and east, are also well worth visiting.

Text by Robert D. Fiala, Concordia University, Nebraska

Plan view

Not to scale. Adapted from signpost on site.

Plan of Wenmiao Temple


All images copyright 2007 by Professor Robert D. Fiala of Concordia University, Nebraska, USA. The images were taken between 2001 and 2004.

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Roland Reed posted on Mon Oct 11, 2010 7:50 am:

This is a fine companion to our visit to the temple. Thank you. Roland