Gia Long’s De-Localization of Hanoi’s Văn Miếu

When the Nguyễn Dynasty came to power in 1802, there was a Confucian Temple (Văn Miếu 文廟) in Long Hồ hamlet, outside the imperial citadel. In 1807, Emperor Gia Long ordered that a new Confucian Temple be constructed in the nearby An Ninh hamlet.

That same year, Emperor Gia Long also ordered that a shrine dedicated to the father of Confucius (Khải Thánh từ 啓聖祠) be constructed.

By that time, the institution of the Confucian Temple already had a very long and complex history in China, dating back to the fifth century BC. Over the centuries various additional individuals had been enshrined in the temple, and the shrine dedicated to Confucius’s father was only first established in 1530.

văn miếu scholars

The Confucian Temple that Emperor Gia Long ordered constructed in 1807 honored over 100 individuals, from Confucius to Ming Dynasty scholar Wang Yangming. All of the people honored in this temple were “Chinese,” and all of them could be found in Confucian Temples in “China.”

Two years after ordering the construction of a new Confucian Temple in Hue, Gia Long learned that the Confucian Temple in Hanoi included two individuals who could not be found in Confucian Temples in China.

văn miếu 1

In 1809, one of Gia Long’s officials submitted a memorial from Hanoi in which he noted that the Confucian Temple there also honored Shi Xie/Sĩ Nhiếp (137-226) and Chu Van An (1292–1370), two figures that were not honored in Confucian Temples in China.

Shi Xie/Sĩ Nhiếp was a Han Dynasty official who reportedly introduced [the Classic of] Poetry and [the Classic of] Documents to the Red River Delta region, which was believed by Vietnamese scholars in later centuries to mean that Shi Xie/Sĩ Nhiếp had introduced to the region the elite culture of writing and Confucian morality that they so valued.

Chu Van An, meanwhile, was a famous Vietnamese Confucian scholar-official.

văn miếu 2

Gia Long asked his officials to discuss the matter of the position of these two individuals in the Confucian Temple in Hanoi. Their response was that the Confucian Temple in the capitol of Hue should be taken as the standard.

Shi Xie/Sĩ Nhiếp and Chu Van An were removed from the Confucian Temple in Hanoi, but were allowed to be worshipped (with imperial support) in separate shrines outside of Hanoi.

Đại nam thục lực

There have been many English-langauge studies that have tried to argue that what is important to see in Vietnamese history are the “Vietnamese” or “Southeast Asian” elements that have supposedly countered “imported,” “Chinese” ideas or cultural practices.

This approach has been shared more widely by scholars in the field of Southeast Asian Studies who have argued that what is important to see in Southeast Asian history is how people have “localized” outside ideas and cultural practices.

This approach to the past is one which the officials at Gia Long’s court in 1909 would not have understood.

It is clear that they believed in the opposite.

What they valued was “orthodoxy,” not “local” variations.

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