On Confucius’ birthday (September 28), The Grand Ceremony Dedicated to Confucius (祭孔大典) is held annually as a way of paying respects to Confucius, China’s ‘First Teacher’. The event is mainly celebrated at Qufu, the birthplace of Confucius, and in the Confucius Temple in Taipei, Taiwan.
Through a choreographed ceremony, the 60-minute long presentation starts with three drum rolls before a procession of musicians, dancers, and participants stop every five steps and pause before continuing to their designated spot. The gates then open at the temple, welcoming the spirit of Confucius. After three bows, food and drink are offered as sacrifice, and “The Song of Peace” is played with traditional Chinese instruments. Dancers perform the Ba Yi dance (八佾舞), a dance that started in the Zhou Dynasty as a way of paying respects to people of different social positions. Yi means ‘row’ and the number of dancers depends on who is being honoured. For example, eight rows of dancers participate when paying respect to an emperor, six rows for a duke, four rows for high-ranking government officials, and two rows for lower ranking officials. Eight rows are used for the Confucius Ceremony. Each dancer holds a short bamboo flute in the left hand, which symbolizes balance, and a long pheasant tail feather in the right hand as a sign of integrity.
After incense is offered and chanting takes place, another three bows are given. The sacrificial feast is removed to symbolize it has been eaten by Confucius’ spirit. The participants move from their appointed places to watch the pile of money and prayers burn. Finally, the gates of the temple are closed and the ceremony concludes with participants and observers feasting on a ‘wisdom cake’.
Take this opportunity to reflect on Confucian teachings. These include the importance of filial piety, dutifulness, honesty, sincerity, rightness, wisdom, and courage, and try to understand how all of these concepts come together in the attitude of humanity. As Confucius says in the Analects (8.13), “Be devoted to faithfulness and love learning; defend the good dao until death.”
Image: Classical Chinese Poetry. Retrieved July 2, 2017, from here.
In this article, Paul Carus provides a translated account of three poems recorded in the stone engraved inscriptions of the temple of Confucius at Qufu. Each poem expresses Confucius’s disappointment in life. After becoming a minister in the state of Lu, Confucius found that the duke and others in government did not possess the seriousness and responsibility necessary for their positions, and so he resigned. The following verses from the inscriptions have been published and edited by Confucian scholars.
THE SONG ON TAI SAN*
After Confucius moved to Wei, an unjust governor sent his compliments and invited him to come back to Lu. Confucius refused the offer, convinced that if he did accept the invitation it would only end in disappointment. To express his feelings, Confucius wrote ‘The Song on the Mountain’:
“Would rise to the lofty peak,
Where cliffs and ravines debar.
So Dao though ever near
Is to the seeker far.
How wearisome to me
Those mazes which allow no exit.
I sigh and look around,
The summit in full view;
With woodlands it is crowned
And sandy patches too,
And there stretch all around
The highlands of Lian Fu.
Thickets of thorns prevent
No axe is here
A path to clear;
The higher we are going,
The worse the briars are growing.
I chant and cry,
And while I sigh,
The tears are flowing and the nose is running.”
*Tai San is the name of the mountain situated between Lu and Wei.
THE ORCHID IN THE GRASS
On his way back to Lu from Wei, Confucius stopped in a valley and saw orchids growing on the wayside. He stopped and said, “Orchids should be royalty’s fragrance, but here they are mixed up with common herbs.” He then took his lute and composed a song for the orchids:
“So gently blow the valley breezes
With drizzling mist and rain,
And homeward bound a stranger tarries
With friends in a desert domain.
Blue heaven above! For all his worth,
Is there no place for him on earth?
Though all the countries did he roam
Yet he found no enduring home.
Worldlings are stupid and low,
They naught of sages know.
So swiftly years and days pass by,
And soon old age is drawing nigh.”
Confucius then went back to Lu.
THE SWAN SONG
When Confucius fell sick, the governor visited him. Dragging himself with a walking stick, he sang:
“Huge mountains wear away
The strongest beams decay.
And the sage like grass withers.
Confucius died seven days later.
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The 2017 Nishan Confucian Studies Summer Institute International Program provides an exciting opportunity for international teachers and students of Chinese history and culture to spend a month at an established Confucian Academy. Run by the Nishan Confucian Studies Summer Institute in Qufu, China, the program aims to help participants gain a clear understanding of the historical evolution of Chinese thought and culture through an in-depth examination of Chinese canonical and interpretative texts.
With the rise of China as major force in the world’s political and economic order, the program adopts an alternative approach to examining and analysing Chinese philosophical texts to appreciate their aesthetic and structural differences. By gaining a deeper understanding of Chinese natural cosmology, history, and philosophy, participants will view the emergence of a dynamic contemporary China in a different light.
The month long training program will be led by Professor Rodger T. Ames (Peking University) and Tian Chenshan (Beijing Foreign Studies University) as participants take part in interactive seminars, group discussions, cultural activities and events.
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