The largest and oldest Temple of Confucius is found in Confucius's hometown, present-day Qufu in Shandong Province. It was established in 478 BC, one year after Confucius's death, at the order of the Duke Ai of the State of , who commanded that the Confucian residence should be used to worship and offer sacrifice to Confucius. The temple was expanded repeatedly over a period of more than 2,000 years until it became the huge complex currently standing.
The development of state temples devoted to the cult of Confucius was an outcome of his gradual canonisation. In 195 BC, Han Gao Zu, founder of the Han Dynasty , offered a sacrifice to the spirit of Confucius at his tomb in Qufu. Sacrifices to the spirit of Confucius and that of Yan Hui, his most prominent disciple, began in the Imperial University as early as 241.
In 454, the first state Confucian temple was built by the Liu Song dynasty of south China . In 489, the Northern Wei constructed a Confucian temple in the capital, the first outside of Qufu in the north. In 630, the Tang Dynasty decreed that schools in all provinces and counties should have a Confucian temple, as a result of which temples spread throughout China. Well-known Confucian shrines include the Confucian Temple in Xi'an , the Fuzi Miao in Nanjing, and the Confucian Temple in Beijing, first built in 1302.
In addition to Confucian temples associated with the state cult of Confucius, there were also ancestral temples belonging to the Kong lineage, buildings commemorating Confucius's deeds throughout China, and private temples within .
Most Confucianist temples were built in Confucian schools, either to the front of or on one side of the school. The front portal of the temple was called the Lingxing Gate . Inside there were normally three courtyards, although sometimes there were only two. However, the complex in Qufu has nine courtyards. The main building, situated in the inner courtyard with entry via the ''Dachengmen'' , was usually known as the ''Dachengdian'' , variously translated as "Hall of Great Achievement", "Hall of Great Accomplishment", or "Hall of Great Perfection". This hall housed the Confucius Ancestral Tablet and those of other important masters and sages. In front of the ''Dachengdian'' was the Apricot Pavilion or ''Xingtan'' . Another important building was the Shrine of the Great Wise Men , which honoured the ancestors of Confucius.
Unlike Daoist or Buddhist temples, Confucian temples do not normally have images. In the early years of the temple in Qufu, it appears that the spirits of Confucius and his disciples were represented with wall paintings and clay or wooden statues. Official temples also contained images of Confucius himself. However, there was opposition to this practice, which was seen as imitative of Buddhist temples. It was also argued that the point of the imperial temples was to honour Confucius's teachings, not the man himself.
The lack of unity in likenesses in statues of Confucius first led Emperor Taizu of the Ming dynasty to decree that all new Confucian temples should contain only memorial tablets and no images. In 1530, it was decided that all existing images of Confucius should be replaced with memorial tablets in imperial temples in the capital and other bureaucratic locations, a rule still followed today. However, statues remained in temples operated by Confucius's family descendants, such as that in Qufu.
The state cult of Confucius centred upon offering sacrifices to Confucius's spirit in the Confucian temple.
A dance known as the Eight-Row Dance, consisting of eight columns of eight dancers each, was also performed. Originally this was a Six-Row Dance, as performed for the lesser aristocracy, but in 1477 Confucius was allowed the imperial honour of the eight-row dance since he posthumously received the title of king.
In addition to worshipping Confucius, Confucian temples also honoured the "Four Correlates" , the "Twelve Philosophers" , and other disciples and Confucian scholars through history. The composition and number of figures worshipped changed and grew through time. Since temples were a statement of Confucian orthodoxy, the issue of which Confucians to enshrine was a controversial one.
By the , there were a total of 162 figures worshipped. The Four Correlates include Yan Hui, , Kong Ji, and Mencius. The Twelve Philosophers are Min Zijian, Ran Boniu, Zhong Gong, Cai Wo, Zi-gong, Ran You, Zi-Lu, Zi-You, Zi-Xia, Zi-Zhang, You Ruo, and Zhu Xi. A list of disciples of Confucius and their place in the Confucian temple can be found at Disciples of Confucius.
Confucian temples outside People's Republic of China
With the spread of Confucian learning throughout East Asia, Confucian temples were also built in Vietnam, Korea, and Japan. Starting in the 18th century, some were even built in Europe and the Americas. At their height, there are estimated to have been over 3,000 Confucian temples in existence.
The earliest recorded Confucian Temple in Vietnam is the Temple of Literature or Van Mieu in Hanoi, established in 1070. After 1397, with the construction of schools throughout Vietnam under the Tran, Confucian temples began to spread throughout the country. Well known Confucian temples were built in , Hoi An, Hung Yen, Hai Duong, and An Ninh.
Outside China, the largest number of Confucian temples is found in Korea. Temples were first built during the Goryeo period . In the time of Yi Seonggye , it was decreed that Confucian temples should be built in all areas of the nation. Although Chinese models were followed, variations in layout and construction were common, such as the building of schools in front of temples. Korea also added its own scholars to the Confucian pantheon.
Historically, Korea had a total of 362 temples devoted to the cult of Confucius. After World War II and the division of the country, those in the North were converted to other uses. However, many of the 232 temples in the South continued their activities . In addition to temples devoted to the cult of Confucius, the Republic of Korea also has twelve Confucian family temples, two temples in private schools, and three libraries.
Confucian temples were also widely built in Japan, often in conjunction with Confucian schools. The most famous is the Yushima Seido, built in 1630 during the Edo period as a private school connected with the Neo-Confucianist scholar Hayashi Razan. Originally built in Shinobi-ga-oka in , it was later moved to Yushima by the Tokugawa Shogunate and reopened as a school of Confucianism to spread the teachings of the Hayashi school.
Other well known Confucian temples are found in , Bizen , , and Naha .
The first Confucian Temple in Taiwan was the "Taiwan Confucian Temple" , which was built in the period of .
Confucian temples are also found in Indonesia, where they are often known as "Churches of Confucius" as Confucianism is a recognised religion in that country. In Chinese, these establishments are known as or "halls of worship". The largest and oldest is the Boen Bio in Surabaya, originally built in the city's Chinatown in 1883 and moved to a new site in 1907. There are reportedly more than 100 Confucianist halls of worship throughout Indonesia.
The first Confucian temple in Malaysia was built within a primary school known as Chung Hwa Confucian School in Penang, in the early 20th Century. The building of the school was initiated by the Qing dynasty ambassador to the British Straits Settlement at that time. In those days parents in Penang brought their children to this temple for prayer before they began their schooling. The children prayed for excellence in their studies.
There is also a Confucian school in Malacca where ceremonies in honour of Confucius are held annually.
In , Confucian temples are known as Kong Miao . Alternative names are:
* 文庙/文廟 literally "Culture temple" or "Temple of literature"
* 圣庙/聖廟 literally "Sacred temple" or "Sage temple"
* 夫子/夫子廟 literally "Master temple", derived from the full Chinese name of Confucius
Names in other countries of Asia are based on the Chinese names. For example:
* Korean: 孔子廟 , 文廟
* Japanese: 孔子廟 , 聖廟
* Vietnamese: V?n mi?u
* Indonesian: Boen Bio
*Taiwan Confucian Temple