Confucius Ceremony Red Dancers
Photo Credit: Zhong Ming

Celebrating Confucius’s 2,725th Birthday

A ceremony at Beijing’s 14th century Confucius temple celebrates a sage's birth based on 2,000-year-old traditions

On a sunny autumn morning in Beijing last month, a crowd of reverent worshipers draped in yellow scarves slowly shuffled into an ancient temple to the gentle sound of traditional Chinese string music and the scent of incense. The path and steps to the temple entrance were laid with a red carpet flanked by yellow chrysanthemum flowers. As the head of the ceremony slowly led the audience to the temple doors, the participants bowed in respect to one of China’s most influential thinkers.

Even after 2,725 years, China’s most famous philosopher can still draw a crowd for his birthday. On September 28, ceremonies and celebrations across China marked the anniversary of Confucius’s birth, with one of the largest held at Beijing’s 14th century Confucius Temple and Imperial College Museum.

While the host delivered a speech espousing the importance of Confucius and his teachings to Chinese culture and philosophy, other members of the procession, who are secondary school and college students dressed in the white robes of ancient literati and officials, stood silently to attention nearby. Later, outside the temple, members of the procession dressed in red robes, holding pheasant feathers in their right hand and yue (a type of ancient Chinese flute) in their left hand, performed rituals of respect to Confucius.

As one of China’s grandest and oldest temple ceremonies, the memorial dedicated to Confucius has a history of over 2,000 years. On this day, people throughout China gather at the hundreds of Confucius temples around the country, bowing, dancing, and delivering speeches to pay tribute to the man whose teachings are considered foundational to Chinese culture.

The ceremony in Beijing, however, has been held at the museum for the past 12 years, and aims to remember Confucius’s legacy and promote traditional Chinese culture, according to Yu Xiaopeng, a host of the ceremony. “To commemorate Confucius is to show one’s admiration for Chinese culture,” Yu tells TWOC. He says that the ceremony is important, as “the significance of popularizing traditional culture is to unite Chinese people.”

The ceremony rituals comprised of six parts: Welcoming the Spirit (迎神), the First Worship (初献), the Second Worship (亚献), the Final Worship (终献), Delivering the Spirit (送神), and Watching the Burning (望燎). According to Yu, who is an educator of traditional Confucian culture, these traditional rituals symbolize people reuniting with their ancestors, welcoming their spirits, communicating with them, and then sending them back to heaven.

Confucius birthday ceremony participant

Many members of the procession are students selected from local high schools to perform

Confucius birthday ceremony ritual

Ritual performers holding pheasant feathers prepare to take the stage in front of the temple

Confucius ceremony ritual

One of the hosts delivers a speech in classical Chinese about the significance of Confucius’s teachings in modern China

Confucius birthday ceremony bow

Audience members were instructed to bow first to the temple, then north, south, east, and west

confucius temple rituals

The rituals begin

Confucius ceremony procession

The procession, headed by Yu Xiaopeng, moves slowly through the temple grounds so the audience can pay their respects

Confucius statue in Beijing

A statue of Confucius stands outside the temple

Confucius birthday ceremony in Beijing

Yu and members of the ceremony head inside to perform rituals such as burning incense

Confucius birthday traditional ceremony

Yu instructs young attendees, dressed in traditional robes, on how to honor Confucius

Photography by Zhong Ming


author Anita He (贺文文)

Anita is a researcher at The World of Chinese. She is interested in stories that involve gender inequality, social issues, as well as current affairs. She is also passionate about the development of subcultures in Chinese society.

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