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Thursday, June 13, 2019, 15:58
Liangzhou students seek Confucian blessings before gaokao
By Shen Wendi
Thursday, June 13, 2019, 15:58 By Shen Wendi

In this undated photo, candidates tie red ribbons with their names on the Zhuangyuan bridge for blessings on the day before the national college entrance examination. (SHEN WENDI / CHINA DAILY)

It is perhaps little surprise that every year, in the days leading up to the national college entrance examination, the Wen Temple located in Liangzhou district of Wuwei, Gansu province, is inundated with students and their parents looking for a little divine intervention on the big day.

This year was no exception, and the Wen Temple-the country's third-largest temple dedicated to Confucius-played host to thousands of local visitors.

The temple is the cradle for sages, and is said to be where Wenchang, the Taoist deity in charge of fame and fortune, designates the Zhuangyuan (top candidate). Therefore, the place is regarded as a symbol of wisdom and blessing.

Ji Chunmei, Guide at Wen Temple, Liangzhou district of Wuwei, Gansu province

The temple complex, built in 1439 during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), was once entitled the "unparalleled Confucian academy in Gansu province" and experienced many years of expansion.

The existing Wen Temple is comprised of three groups of structures-the Confucius Academy, the Wenchang Pavilion and the Dacheng Palace, with the last being the best preserved. Along with Zhuangyuan bridge, Lingxing Gate and the statue of Confucius, Dacheng Palace, the place for worshipping Confucius, stands on the axis of the whole complex and is flanked by ancient, towering trees.

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A group of 44 well-preserved plaques hanging beneath the eaves of Wenchang Pavilion are eye-catching, and date from the reign of Emperor Kangxi in 1695 to 1939.

As an art form peculiar to traditional Chinese culture, the plaques are often inscribed with an aphorism or a classical allusion, concise and sobering. Among the inscriptions on the 44 plaques in Wen Temple, some reflect the culture of respecting intellect in Liangzhou district, while others extol the virtues of Wenchang.

These plaques are all inscribed with the work of prestigious calligraphers and the words of political figures of the day and, thus, considered high in both historical and aesthetic value. Additionally, the volume of the plaques, along with their level of preservation, is also a rarity.

"The temple is the cradle for sages, and is said to be where Wenchang, the Taoist deity in charge of fame and fortune, designates the Zhuangyuan (top candidate). Therefore, the place is regarded as a symbol of wisdom and blessing," says Ji Chunmei, who has worked at Wen Temple as a guide for 22 years.

In this undated photo, candidates tie red ribbons with their names on the Zhuangyuan bridge for blessings on the day before the national college entrance examination. (SHEN WENDI / CHINA DAILY)

In ancient times, the title of Zhuangyuan was conferred upon whomever achieved first place in the highest imperial examination.

Among a number of historical sites in Wen Temple, Zhuangyuan bridge is unmissable. As its name suggests, it's exclusively for the candidate who has become Zhuangyuan to cross. "Over the decades, it has become a tradition that students who attend the final exam will come and pay a visit to make a wish. They tie red ribbons on Zhuangyuan bridge. The goal is pure and simple-to succeed in the examination in order to get into a good college," Ji says.

It's a peaceful and scenic yard where students come with peers or family members. Some appear relaxed enough, while others look more solemn, as if they have the full weight of the national college entrance examination, or gaokao, on their shoulders. Exam day is, without doubt, a big deal for them.

Qi Jie, 18, from Liangzhou district came with her father. "I've never been here before, but I've heard a lot from people around me. I just feel peaceful and relaxed at this moment. I'm confident that I can do well in the exam."

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Another five students spent an hour traveling down from Huangyang town to Liangzhou for the exam, which took place over June 7-9, and visited the Wen Temple for blessings. They say the exam gives them the opportunity to see a bigger world, and they are here to wish that they get accepted by their first-choice college.

Tian Zhaoliang from Wuwei No 6 Middle School is taking the exam for the second year. He says gaokao is a huge pressure.

For too many students, it's nearly the one and only opportunity to change their life. A short visit to Wen Temple will not only put the students' minds at ease, but is also psychological therapy for their parents. It's nothing about feudalistic superstition, but just about good wishes. In some sense, the practice manifests the traditional culture of Liangzhou.

It is estimated that the temple received 4,600 visits between June 1 and June 7. This year, the candidates for the final exam in Wuwei reached 16,400, with almost a half from Liangzhou.

shenwendi@chinadaily.com.cn

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