Confucianism in Vietnam

K’ung Fu Tzu, Confucius when ‘’translated’’ into the Latin alphabet, lived around 500 BC. He worked in the Chinese Court and observed conflict at every turn. His answer was to formulate a code of conduct for daily life. The aim was to create peace and harmony and in order to do make a difference he left the royal court to spread his ideas.

Temple of literature in hanoi

There were two basic principles at the heart of his teachings, those of proper behaviour and the necessity of obedience and loyalty. These messages were entrenched in ceremony and ritual though he had no spiritual content as such. That calls into question whether Confucianism can be truly called a religion in Vietnam.

K’ung Fu Tzu believed that authority should not come from birth but from learning, respect and non-violence. His ideas were embraced by people in China though by no means the majority. He ‘’preached’’ obedience, children to parents, wives to husbands and students to teachers. The way to advance was through education. The result of his thinking was a rigid society and stability at the expenses of change, and often progress as a result. As time passed, Confucianism absorbed elements of Taoism.

China was stagnating, not progressing and an easy target for invaders, often from Europe. Confucianism was brought to Vietnam in the very early days of its development and has had a form of influence ever since. A temple dedicated appropriately was built in the 11th Century in Hanoi; the Temple of Literature which is included in many Vietnam tour packages. Tourists on holiday in Vietnam are virtually certain to visit Hanoi, the Temple included. Incidentally the Temple of Souvenirs in Ho Chi Minh City’s Botanical Gardens is also dedicated to Confucius. His birthday is celebrated there every year and if you are lucky enough to be travelling in Vietnam at that time and in Ho Chi Minh City, it is worth seeing the celebrations.

Vietnam had a hierarchical society where everyone was encouraged to improve themselves for the better of the community. Confucius saw the spirit as surviving the death of the body so ancestor worship was an important part of beliefs. Ancestor worship is a regular occurrence on special festival days as well as anniversaries of birth and death.

Confucius wrote several books and the following are seen as among the most important:

    The Yi Ching (The Book of Changes)
    The Shu Ching (The Book of History)
    The Li Chi (The Book of Rites and Ceremonies)
    The Analects (The Sayings of Confucius)

Confucius did not see life after death as many religions do, whether heaven or nirvana. He saw a simple life, harmony and good behaviour as the important things. Within Vietnam, the important festivals such as New Year (Tet), the Arrival of Spring, the Mid-Autumn and Children’s Festival all owe something to Confucius and his teachings. Worship of ancestors will take place at each of them. Travellers in Vietnam lucky enough to be in the country at any of these times will enjoy a real experience.