Sat, Mar 28, 2009 - Page 4 News List

FEATURE : Confucius Temple plays host to rare traditional rituals

By Mo Yan-chih  /  STAFF REPORTER

The Yayue dance begins with performers standing at the corners of the Da Cheng Palace holding flowers or wine.

PHOTO: MO YAN-CHIH, TAIPEI TIMES

Visitors to Taipei’s Confucius Temple in Datong District (大同) have recently had the opportunity to watch traditional rituals that are rarely performed except on Confucius Day and other major ceremonies.

Since last month a simplified version of the Yayue dance (雅樂), an ancient sacrificial rite to honor Confucius, has been performed every Saturday as part of the temple’s latest effort to promote Confucianism and traditional culture.

The full ceremony, which follows ancient rules with 33 steps in sequence and lasts for about 60 minutes, is only performed on Sept. 28 each year in celebration of Confucius’ birthday with a limited number of residents and tourists allowed to participate.

Seeking to vitalize the ceremony and make the ritual more accessible, the temple has invited more than 40 volunteers to practice the rites and perform the dance at the Da Cheng Palace (大成殿) from 9am to 9:30am every Saturday morning.

“Taipei Confucius Temple seeks to promote Confucianism in modern times, and performing the dance, which represents an ancient form of education in nurturing the body and mind, makes Confucius’ teachings more accessible to people,” said Shih Shu-li (施淑梨), the temple’s executive secretary.

The shortened version of the rites begins with performers standing at the corners of the palace holding food, wine and flowers. Then, in time with a solemn bell and drumbeat, the performers walk a straight line to the center of the palace and present the sacrifices to the great philosopher using small, slow steps.

The volunteers, ranging from college students and housewives to retired teachers, did not have previous experience performing the rites. In order to give a perfect performance, they spend two nights a week practicing.

“The dance stresses the balance of all body parts, and is also great practice for the mind, helping you stay calm and focused,” said Kuo Han (郭瀚), the volunteers’ teacher.

Shih said the temple hopes to present a longer version of the ceremony with a multi-lingual guide for visitors in the near future.

Starting with the regular performances, the temple has also presented a series of events to promote Confucianism and traditional culture following the Spring Ceremony earlier this month and will also hold a blessing ceremony in May for candidates getting ready for their school entrance exams, she said.

The temple also designed dolls of Confucius and other Chinese deities two years ago to modernize the temple’s image and solicit support from younger generations. The cute deities have become popular items in the gift shop, Shih said.

Another attempt to promote traditional culture in a modern way is the free weekend Chinese classics program for elementary school students that began several years ago.

The program has attracted hundreds of children to study Chinese literary classics ranging from the teachings of Confucius to poetry from the Tang Dynasty.

The teaching and promotion of Confucian philosophy in Taiwan has sparked some controversy in recent years as the former Democratic Progressive Party government reduced the number of school lessons in Chinese classics and put more effort into promoting Taiwanese literature and culture.

Winnie Wang (王素珠), a mother of two, brushed off the controversy over Confucianism as she waited for her two sons outside the Tang poetry chanting class last Saturday.

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