Before leaving Ha Noi at the beginning of autumn our friend Alain Bockel, cultural counselor at the French embassy, invited his many friends to a soirée at the Temple of Literature.
We spent long hours enjoying the company of one another against the backdrop of secular banians and mangoes and decaying dragons and phoenixes lit up by resin torches and neon lights.
For the first time a popular art show was staged before the altar of Qmfucius in the Great Hall of Ceremonies. The repertoire consisted of folk songs, traditional music and excerpts from Cheo comedies originating from the Red River delta.
Also in this sacred hall a lighthearted cocktail party was given, to the astonishment of two hieratic bronze cranes perched on two stolid turtles of Longevity. Oh times! Oh ways!
In the old days temples of literature (Van Mieu) existed in all provincial capitals for the cult of Confucius. The one in Ha Noi which is the most important, and which was called Temple of Crows by the French during the colonial epoch, was probably built in 1070. It housed Viet Nam’s first university, which dates back to about the same period.
In one article I talked about the “adventures” of this sage in Ha Noi during the past decades.
Now to have a fuller idea of his legacy, we should distinguish the treasure of Confucianist humanism from the negative, conservative and even retrograde aspect of the Master himself.
Confucianism, like all other foreign ideological and cultural elements, has undergone multiple changes in Viet Nam. There exist at least four lines of ppnfucianist thinking all tinged with Taoism and Buddhism - the orthodox doctrine of autocratic monarchy held by bigoted or servile mandarins; Confucianism as cqnceived by mandarins who attached a much greater value to the humanism of the man of letters, like in the case of Nguyen Trai (15th century); title option of those men of letters (more often than not school teachers) who lived among the people and espoused their cause; and finally the Confucianist thinking of the people which is an amalgam of some moral principles set down by the Master together with popular beliefs, ways and customs, some of which undoubtedly date back to our bronze culture in the first millennium before the Christian era.