The Temple of Literature


Hanoi prides itself on being the centre of Vietnamese culture, and certainly the Hanoians I know have a much greater interest in matters of culture, history and literature than the average Saigonese. This interest is balanced by a certain cynicism, so on balance Hanoians are far less religious than their cousins in the South.
One of the places that makes me love Hanoi the most is the wonderful Van Mieu, the ancient Temple of Literature which was once one of the world's great universities and a centre of Confucian learning. The beautiful courtyards and gardens are contained by high walls and culminate in a temple hall once dedicated to the worship of Confucius. Along the central courtyard run rows of stone tortoises which hold steles on their backs celebrating the achievements of the University's greatest scholars.
For someone who has aspirations to being a scholar himself, such a place is incredibly inspiring.
I wandered through those rows of stone tortoises imagining those ancient scholars, so young and beautiful and earnest, having sacrificed everything in order to ascend the peculiar scholastic hierarchy that typified state Confucianism, and which controlled the administration of Vietnam for centuries - until the arrival of the French.

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