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Sunday, May 18, 2014

Kongzi say...

Love him or hate him, for better and/or for worse, there's no escaping the influence the philosopher Confucius 孔子 has had on Chinese society (and in Korea and Japan, as well). For around a thousand years, knowledge of the works attributed to him were a requirement to pass the rigorous imperial civil service exam in China. In theory, at least, subjects bowed to their rulers, wives dutifully obeyed their husbands and children had to demonstrate filial piety. Students were force fed his teachings in class. Chinese society rarely, if ever, lived up to its Confucian ideals, but that never stopped the Neo-Confucianists from using the philosophies derived from the great sage's lectures to limit progress and bring society to a standstill. And though the Communists tried their best to eradicate Confucius from Chinese life during the early years of the People's Republic, modern-day authoritarians desperate to hold on to power have re-discovered the value of promoting the ideas of the great philosopher. 

And so, if you haven't already guessed, there is a connection between our family, this weekend and Confucius. Like many cities in China and Taiwan, Shànghǎi 上海 has a Confucian Temple 文庙, located in the Old City 老成. Shanghai's Confucian outpost is noted for its secondhand book market held every Sunday; however, today's was canceled due to security measures in place for the upcoming Conference on Interaction and Confidence-Building Measures in Asia, to be held May 20-21 in Shanghai. The temple was established during the Yuán dynasty  元朝, but was heavily damaged during the Taiping Rebellion, and was largely rebuilt in 1855.

One of the most noteworthy buildings in the complex is the Kuíxīng Pavilion 魁星阁, dedicated to the Taoist god of fate and literature:

My daughter poses by a tree (the type of which I do not know) which is over 300 years of age:

The study hall had an exhibition of teapots, all showing a high degree of craftsmanship and skill, such as this meter-high monster which had images of swimming carp on the other side (but which couldn't photograph clearly due to the reflection off the glass)...:

...and this one of a scholar chanting a Buddhist sutra:

Students visit the Confucian temple to pray for success on the much-too-important high school and college entrance exams, and their red ribbons expressing their wishes were tied to posts and trees outside the main hall:

In Confucian Temples in Taiwan, it's uncommon to find statues or other representations of the great philosopher, but Shanghai's house of worship had not one, but two. The first stood in front of the Dàchéng Hall...:

...and the other inside the building:

In Shanghai, the future (here in the form of the yet-to-be-completed Shanghai Tower 上海中心大厦) is never far away. According to a program recently aired on Discovery, the Shanghai Tower is a remarkable new lifestyle concept that will cure the ills of modern-day Shanghai (traffic congestion, overcrowding, pollution etc.). In reality, it will be nothing more than just another skyscraper to add to the city's growing collection:

After our visit to the Confucian Temple, we made our way over to Dōngtái Road 东台路, a long street of old houses that have so far escaped the attention of the developers and city planners. Here, virtually every shop was devoted to selling antiques and other curios, ranging from kitschy Chairman Mao nicknacks to reproductions of terracotta warriors:

Local kids play behind the stalls:

Of course, we couldn't leave without purchasing something. This reproduction of an old poster advertising a brand of Japanese sake called Hakutsuru 白鶴 fit the bill nicely:

Cats on a warm tin roof:

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