the Google, and type key word as “Temple of Literature”, you’ll find
around 82.600 results. No doubt, the temple is quite well-known in
internet and it’s just a piece of cake for you to search for its
information. And when you’re flooded with information, the questions
are ‘what to say’ and ‘how to say’

below message is just a sample of my commentary for the 1st section of
this temple. Hope it helps you to have a clearer idea of how a
commentary should be.

1. General information:
* Brief introduction about Hanoi – the capital of one thousand year history

Before the year 1010: , the capital was Hoa Lu (100 km South of Hanoi).
That time, we got our independence after 1000 years under the Chinese
domination -> it was a military capital – surrounded by the
limestone mountains.

The country was getting richer and more powerful -> needed a bigger
capital -> In 1010 king Ly Thai To decided to moved the capital to
other place – more central location and convenient for farming and

The legend of Asending dragon: while the king was sailing along the Red
river, he saw a golden dragon ascending from the riverside – a good
omen for the country -> decided to choose this dragon’s land as the
capital city, and named it as Ascending Dragon city.

Since then, there were a lot of palaces, pagodas and temple were built
inside the capital citadel. Due to the war time and historical changes,
there are not many of them left nowadays.

The name Hanoi appeared in 1831 when the capital moved to Hue by the
Nguyen Dynasty (the last dynasty) Ha means River and Noi means the
Inside, so Hanoi means the city embraced by the Red river.

When the French took over Vietnam (by the end of the 19th century),
they destroyed many ancient architectures and replaced with the modern
architecture. This temple was luckily reserved as a memorial feudalism
in Vietnamese.

– In 1945: Hanoi were again chosen to be capital by Ho Chi Minh’s government after defeating the French army.

* When was this temple built? By whom and dedicated to whom?

This temple was built in 1070 by king Ly Thanh Tong to worship
Confucius and also to be a quiet place for the crown prince’s studying.

* Who’s Confucius? What’s Confucianism? Why Confucianism was important in the feudalism?
– Confucius is a Chinese man who founded Confucianism.

Confucianism is not a religions but an way of thought based on a
temporal world. The Great Confucian virtue is how to behave as a good
human being: to follow the rules of life and act correctly by their
social status and the only way to have a higher class is by studying
and successful in the royal exam.

According to the Confucius’s theory, man is more appreciated than
woman, and the most important man in one country is the king. The king
is considered to be the Heaven’s son so all people have to respect him
and follow his orders without any discussion. This rule made
Confucianism became the foundation of feudalism of every Asian
countries and Confucius were worshipped by every kings

* Why the king named it temple of LITERATURE (not math or philosophy?)

Because in the ancient time, when people followed the Confucian
educational system and Literature was everything they have to study on.
The natural sciences such as mathematic, chemical, physics… were not
mentioned, the schools program only included the Confucian classics,
philosophy, literature, history, students must learn how to compose
poems, royal essays.

* What was the school built? By whom and for whom?

In 1076 when the crown prince became a king. He ordered to built the
Quoc Tu Giam or The school for the nation’s sons at the rear of this

It became the 1st university of the whole country, which was firstly
only for members of the royal family and sons of the mandarin and then
later, opened to all talented students.

Why there’re too many Chinese characters in this temple? Is this
language is similar to Vietnamese one? How the Latin system was
introduced into Vietnam language?

Because in the ancient time, we only had our own oral language and
didn’t have the written language. In the time of feudalism, we had to
use Chinese characters for our writing system. So in all ancient
architecture, we used Chinese characters as kind of decoration.

The present written language was invented in 16th century, when there
were a couple of Catholic missionaries came to Vietnam, and they had to
think of a easy way to tranform the Catholic theory and introduced it
to Vietnam. Under the French domination, this writing systems were
developed and promoted through the whole coutry.

Hi guys, the bellowing message is my presentation for the 2nd second. Hope it helps, somehow.

2. From the Entrance Gate:
Panoramic diagram of the temple: How many sections, why there are more
than one section? The meaning of No.5 in the oriental culture and

The temple’s architecture is divided in to five courtyards, it helps
you separate yourself and cool down your soul whist walking deep inside
the temple.

– On the other hand, in Confucianism, the number five is a sacred number:

  • There’re five basic elements created the world: metal, wood, water, fire, earth.
  • There’re
    5 virtues a gentleman must have: humanity (nhân), righteousness (lễ),
    civility (nghĩa), knowledge (trí) and loyalty (tín).
  • There’re 5 basic relationships of society: king and subjects, father and son, husband and wife, brothers, friends.

* How was it run in the ancient time?

Originally, in the ancient time, this temple was the most sacred one in
Hanoi and was opened just twice per year, in the spring and the autumn
festival. Only the king and his followers could walk into the temple
and they make some ceremonies dedicated to Confucius. The King would
take the entrance path while all mandarins and soldiers would take the
smaller ones on the left and the right side.

By the end of 17th century, the capital was moved to Hue by Nguyen
dynasty – the last dynasty of Vietnamese feudalism. The Nguyen king
also removed a lot of royal palaces in Hanoi and transferred to Hue.
Finally, they decided to destroyed the imperial wall citadel and used
these bricks to built a wall surrounded this temple, turned it into the
last reminder of former royal families in Hanoi.

3. The Middle Gate:
* The meaning of symbol Two carps with one jar?

It symbolize for the hard way of students who want to be mandarin of
the country. According to an old story, when carps want to change
themselves to dragons, they have to pass an arch- shaped rock waterfall
during the violent tide.

It’s also similar to students who succeeded in passing through the
examinations while this little jar stands for the holy knowledge.

* Names of the two smaller gates? Their meaning?

The two side gates’ names are Virtue (Thành Đức) and Talent (Đạt Tài).
Since the ancient time, they’ve been considered to be most important
qualities of a successful students in our education system.

4. The Khue Van Cac (Pavillion of Constellation of Literature):

* When and why was it built?

This pavilion didn’t belong to the temple original architecture. It
just was built by the end of 18th century, when the Nguyen king carried
out the last restoration in this temple before moving the capital to

There’s also a temple of literature in Hue. It’s much smaller than this
one but the architecture an purpose are exactly the same.

– Now we use this pavilion as the symbol of Hanoi. You can see it on every street signs.

* The name’s meaning? How does it represent for the Yin – Yang concept?

Khue Van Cac means Constellation of literature pavilion. The pavilion
is rich in the complementary symbolism of yin- yang. They are high and
low, square and circle….

* The relationship between this pavillion and the two small gates at the previous section?

In order for the student to pass through the gate to the next level of
knowledge, the virtue and talent of the first stage must be joined to
excellence in literary expression.
5. Examination in the past:
* Why the exam was important to all students in the old days?

The first, the second, the third courtyard are also refer to three
different examinations that students had to take to become a scholar

That was the only way for people who wanted to have higher class in
society. The 3 – stage examination process could take several years.

* How was the exam held?
– The first step, was the Regional examination which held every 3 years in several main towns and the successful candidates will receive the title bachelor’s degree.
– The second step: those who passed the 1st step then came to Hanoi to sit for the second exam called National exam
which happened in the next 3-4 years. It was four parts examination. A
candidate had to pass each part in sequence in order to qualify to sit
for the following part. They have to show their profound knowledge of
Confucian books, to write a royal essays, to compose poem in Chinese
character and to comment on how to solve problem facing the country.
Those who complete all four were conferred the title of doctor and
invited to the Royal palace for the Palace examination.

– The third step: called Palace examination,
all new doctors had to answer questions that were given directly from
the king. The king then ranked the doctors in three groups and the top
three successful candidates of the highest-ranking group.

The new mandarin then were given a banquet at the palace, award new
clothes and a lot of money and sent home to their village in triumphal
procession. Later on, they would came back the capital and worked for
the royal course as a mandarin.

6. The Stelea Garden
* When did the 1st stele was built? By whom and why did he built it?
– These stelae had been built since the 15th century.

That time, we had a very outstanding king and under his leading the
Vietnamese royal system rich its peak of development (king Le Thanh

He king paid a lot of attention to promote the country’s education. And
according to his opinions, it took so much time and energy for studying
and for those who succeeded in both 3 exams money and higher social
position may not enough. He agreed that “talent is the life source of a
nation, the powerful life source strengthens a country, a declining
life source weakens it”.

The king’s idea was to built stelae on which curved the name of all
successful students so that their name would last forever in the
country’s history. It’s the biggest pride for all of them and their
family, and then when their offspring visit this temple, whenever they
see their ancestral names, they would be encouraged on studying.

* The general content of stele?
– Each stele represents a single examination year.
– General speaking, their contents are:

  • 1st part contains some nice words toward the king and his royal court who held this exam.
  • 2nd
    part tell you about this exam: when and where it happened, how
    difficult it was, the name of all examiners and of this stele composer.
  • 3rd part records the name and native villages of those awarded doctor degree that year following the ranking position.

* Why sometimes you see some destroyed characters on these stelea?
– Originally, they are some nice words praising of the king who held this exam.

In the 19th century, when the Nguyen dynasty raised up and took power
over the country, the 1st king of this dynasty wanted to erase the
former dynasty’s influences. So he ordered his soldiers to rub these
nice words out, to bring every local people’s thoughts on the former
king away.

* How many stelae totally? How many of them left? Why are they different from each other?
to the history books, there were about 150 stelae in this temple but
during the war time, lot of them was destroyed, so today, there’re only
82 steles left.

The content is the same but their size and decoration style are quite
different. The reason is they were carved in different period:

  • Group 1: the earliest steles – dating to the 15th century: smaller stele with very simple decoration.
  • Group 2: the 16th century steles are a little bit bigger and were carved a little bit more delicately.
  • Group 3: the 17th-18th century – the biggest steles, more beautiful designed

* Why are they placed on the backs of tortoises?
– In our spiritual life, tortoise is one of four sacred animals (dragon, phoenix, unicorn and tortoise).

It symbolizes the universe, with the tortoise shell representing the
sky and its belly, the earth. Tortoise is also stand for the longevity.
The king put steles on the tortoises’ back and wish the national
passion for learning and talent can last forever.

* Why the tortoises’ head are so smooth?

The steles always represent for successful students. So before every
important exams, a lot of Vietnamese students come here and touch the
tortoises’ heads and believing that this action can bring them good
luck for the coming exam.

The peak season is June – before the University Entrance Exam. It’s the
most difficult and important Exam in Vietnam. After finishing the high
school, we have to take this exam to go to university and colleague.
Vietnamese people always pay their respect to education and even a
simple farmer family also have a dream of their children would have
chance to upgrade themselves by receiving a better education.

Consequently, the vacuums in universities are always lower than demand.
On average, there’s only around 15% of candidates pass this exam. Even
nowadays, we open more and more private universities but they’re quite
expensive for most of countryside-families. So we still have to fight
for higher education.

7. The Main House:
* Its purpose?
– This is the Great House of Ceremonies: in the old days, the king and his fellow would make his offering to Confucius.
– It is also the place where the new doctors kneel and bow to pay their respects.
– In earlier century, no one but the caretaker and the king was allowed to enter the Sanctuary.

* Whose statue are placed on these house?
Sanctuary, with statue of Confucius and his four best students: Nhan
tử, Trang tử, Tử Tư và Mạnh Tử. After Confucius’s death, these students
made a great contribution to develop his theory and to spread it over
Asian countries.

* Further information about Confucius – his brief biography?

Even Confucius is regarded as the founder of feudalism system. In this
temple, he is worshipped as a great teacher who donated his life for
promoting education. When he was 54, he and his disciples started to
travel from one state to another to learn and teach rites, and to
persuade emperors to implement his politics of Governing by ethics. He
was considered to be a teacher of ten thousand students throughout the
East Asia.

– After his death at age 73, his doctrine was spread out by many of his students.

* The influence of Confucianism in Vietnam and its decline?

Confucianism was introduced into Vietnam quite early, together with the
Chinese domination which lasted for 1000 year before 938.

Since we had our own independence, although we tried our best to keep
our authentic culture and lifestyle, the Vietnamese kings did accept a
lot of progressive theory from China, they practiced Confucianism to
establish the new and young royal course in Vietnam.

Confucianism reached it peak at the 15th century, under the Le dynasty.
Education was promoted much more than ever and there were also bigger
gaps between people of social positions, and between man and woman in
the society as well.

Since 19th century, Confucianism lost its influence in Vietnamese
culture and became badly behind Western schools, particularly in
technology and the natural sciences. So, at the beginning of the 20th
century, Vietnam stopped all Confucian examination but the traditional
respect for learning remained. And today we worship Confucius not as
the founder of Confucianism but as the great teacher of generations and
appreciate his non-stop learning and teaching.

8. Quoc Tu Giam: The school for the son of Nation
* Who built the school? Who was the first student? How did it become popular for all talented (male) students?
– This school was built in 1076.

It was firstly opened for crown prince then sons of the mandarin chosen
by the king. Sometimes later the school was opened for good male
students of the country who had bachelor’s degree from one of the
provincial school.

who succeeded in the 1st step – Regional exam will carefully prepare
for the National exam and Palace exam. Normally, they came to the
capital to stay and study with the beter teacher to prepare for these

Most of them joined in this school and spent 2-3 years preparing for
the exams. Some of them learnt with other famous teachers around the
capital and went to this school to attend some public lectures which
held twice per month.

* How did they move from there hometown to this school?
– After successful in the Regional exam, students would move to the capital. But
the road condition that time was definitely not easy. They had to walk
most of the time, carried with them food enough for long journey, a
tent, a bamboo bed and writing materials. Along the way, the students
had to face the risk of robbery, tiger attacks, snake bite and many
other risks.

– If they survived the trip, most candidates chose to stay for some years to study at this National University.

* How did they live and study in the ancient time? And how long did they stay here?
– Students lived and studied in this school for couple of years before the final exams.

Everyday they were waken up early in the morning by a bell and they’ll
spend the whole day for studying Confucian classics, philosophy,
literature, history and politics. They learnt by heart as well as
Vietnamese and Chinese history. They also studied how to compose poetry
and prepare documents such as royal edicts, speeches, mandarin’s
reports, analyses, and essays.

– They might have a small pocket-money from the royal course.

* Its damage during the war time and the restoration project (who sponsors? How long did it take?)
– During the war time, the school was destroyed totally.

In the year 1996, Vietnamese government had a big project to rebuilt
this area. It was rebuilt by all ancient techniques of many craftsmen.
Actually the craftsmen could not restore the University to its original
design because the area was heavily damaged at the beginning of the
19th century, and the original architectural drawings had disappeared.
They just tried their best to build in an architectural style what fits
with the Temple of Literature. This project finished in the year 2000.

9. Inside the main house
* Chu Van An: Who is he? Why was he famous? Why was he worshiped in the temple?
– He lived in the 13th century and became the most famous Confucian teacher in our history.

After earning a doctoral title, he refuse to become a mandarin but
setting up his own school at his native village and attracted many
students. Hearing his talent, the king invited him back to the capital
and appointed him vice director of the National University.

He was not happy in the capital because of its corruption. He persuaded
the king to behead 7 corrupt mandarins but the king didn’t agree, so he
quickly submitted his resignation and retired.

He back to his native school and again became a famous teachers, a lot
of his disciples later worked in the royal court and had the top

When he died, the king sent mandarins to attend the funeral and granted
him a high royal title and had him honored as a sage in the Temple of
Literature thanks to his talent and morality.

* The old model:
The model tells you a panoramic view of these temple and school at its peak of development.

They were not very decorative but large, peaceful and sacred. The
temple are were still opened twice per year in special occasions and
students had to take the side doors.

At the height of its development, the University had become a large
institution, comprising 300 classoms, a large lecture room, and a
printing house. It also included a dorm quarter for students from
provinces, a lake and several hectares of farmland in the front. The
temple management assigned a nearby village to farm the land to raise
money for rituals.

In 1996, when they restore this area, they found a lot of vestige
related to the daily life of students when they stay and study here.

* The new model? Why do we now call this temple one kind of culture centre?

The Temple and the School area are turned into a cultural centre of
Hanoi. As a symbol of Vietnamese education, there’re a lot of
graduating party held in this area as a special honour for students.

There’s also a lot of festivities happened here especially during the
Lunar New Year festival: the bonsai market, exchanging Chinese
characters and other traditional games like the cock fighting, or human
chess (the Chinese chess but they replace the chess piece by boys and
girls), which is very colorful and attractive.

Reference: Royal exam – Vietnamese Culture Frequently Ask Questions by Hữu Ngọc and Lady Botton – Thế Giới Publisher 2003

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