Touring Hanoi’s attractions – the Temple of Literature

Contrary to the Imperial City of Thang Long, the Temple of Literature was brimming with all sorts of visitors – locals and foreigners. Regardless, I found some peace and quietness here, as I would find in any temple whilst travelling through Vietnam.

The Temple of Literature is considered the first national University in the country. It is not far from the Imperial Citadel and it was founded shortly after the citadel was established, by the same emperor, Ly Thanh Tong, as a temple of worship to Confucius. Six years later, in 1076, the Emperor’s son established the Imperial Academy as a royal school only for members of the elite – princes, nobles and bureaucrats (all men). It was open for 700 years, educating hundreds of well-known scholars and mandarins. Luckily, the Temple never suffered from damage or destruction, surviving the multiple conflicts assaulting the capital.

Accepted students would study in the Imperial Academy for three to seven years. The curriculum was heavily influenced by Chinese culture, involving reading extensively about Chinese history, as well as classical Chinese literature. There were four major tests per year, and scholars would have the chance to sit the National Exam after completion. If their scores were high enough, they would then be submitted to the Royal Exam, held by the Emperor himself. It was of course a high honour to attend the Imperial Academy and this place formed some of the most brilliant minds in Vietnamese History.

Protected from the elements you find a row of sculpted turtles, carrying what looks like framed certificates. These are called Stelae of Doctors. Carved out of bluestone, they have the names and birthplaces of all 1,307 graduates from a total of 82 different Royal Examinations. It used to be good luck for students to rub the heads of the turtles before exams. Nowadays, to preserve these artifacts, no one is allowed to touch them – still, students come to the Temple of Literature to pray for good fortune during their examination period.

Personally, I often feel incredibly nostalgic about the times I was a student. It is not that I had the time of my life, particularly – I was broke, and spent my days in a stoic manner, studying, reading and very unsure about the future. Unsure is not even the word – just scared. Yet, I always loved studying – of course, I was taking more pleasure from the subjects I did enjoy (anything related to Arts and Humanities). I miss the times I could just spend my days reading without feeling I was not being productive, that I should be doing something that can deliver “value” in a material way. When you become an adult, all of that – the reading, the writing, the time to reflect, to simply allow yourself to be a philosopher in your own right – is almost seen as a waste of time – even when that’s what truly makes you feel connected to the world, to yourself and brings you the sense of purpose to continue on living.

Even while I was admiring the bonsai arrangements in one of the courtyards of the temple, which require so much care and attention, I couldn’t stop wondering – what if this was all life was? Learning, thinking, reflecting, taking care of nature and living in harmony with it?




5 thoughts on “Touring Hanoi’s attractions – the Temple of Literature

  1. I loved this place, your post reminds me of its beauty and peacefulness. Such wonderful greenery, architecture, history and splashes of colour. I also feel a lot of pressure to be productive and creative. Part of me often daydreams about spending the day doing very little. Playing a video game, reading, watching a movie and not thinking about much.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I always blame the capitalist system we were born and raised into. If you are not producing, you are wasting your time. It’s absolutely insane when we actually stop to reflect on it, and how easily we feel guilt for simply taking a break. We are humans after all, what was the point of creating machines and constant automation if we are still killing ourselves in the name of productivity? 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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