Story: Nhat Minh

Photos: Nguyen Phu Duc

Found throughout Vietnam, Temples of Literature reveal a long history of Confucian attitudes towards learning 

Hanoi’s Temple of Literature is dedicated to Confucius, who is honored as the “exemplary teacher of all generations”. Confucianism has exerted a profound impact on the cultures of East Asia. Temples of Literature of varying sizes and architectural styles may be found in China, Japan, South Korea, North Korea, Taiwan and Vietnam.

Temple of Literature in Hanoi

In Vietnam, when Buddhism was the national religion and at its peak during the Ly Dynasty, Emperor Ly Thanh Tong ordered the construction of Hanoi’s Temple of Literature. It was established in 1070 and dedicated to Confucius, the Duke of Zhou, the Four Confucian disciples and the Seventy-two Brilliant Sages. The Crown Prince was to become a student. In 1076, the Emperor founded the National University beside the Temple of Literature to train his imperial relatives. From its very beginning, the Temple of Literature was not merely dedicated to the founder of Confucianism but also served as an incubator of talent for dynasties and the nation.

As Confucianism flourished in Vietnam, the Temple of Literature was extended. During the Tran Dynasty, the National University was renamed the National Academy and began to admit not only members of the imperial family but also brilliant pupils from throughout the country. Between the Post-Le Dynasty and the Nguyen Dynasty, Vietnamese society was strongly Confucian and Temples of Literature were built in other provinces. During the Nguyen Dynasty (1802-1945), along with the Temple of Literature in the Hue Citadel, Temples of Literature were founded in all provinces nationwide from North to South. Even lesser townships built Shrines of Literature designed to honor Confucian wisdom and morality.

In Hanoi, the Temple of Literature – National University compound spans nearly 5.5 hectares in a symmetrical structure along the North – South axis. Its structure was inspired by the original Temple of Literature dedicated to Confucius in Qufu, Shandong. Before the Temple of Literature lies the Lake of Literature, and at its heart lies Kim Chau Dune, which once featured a sightseeing pavilion. The main construction is encircled by brick walls and divided into five zones. The most important area contains the Garden of the Doctorate Stelae, which holds 82 stone stelae recording the top scholars of the Le and Mac Dynasties (1442-1779), and the Main Hall, which is dedicated to Confucius and his key disciples. 

Temple of Literature in the Hue Citadel

The Temple of Literature in Hue dates back to the Era of the Nguyen Lords after they explored and seized the territories of Cochinchine. In 1808, Emperor Gia Long officially ordered the construction of a Temple of Holy Confucius’ Literature in Huong Ho Commune on the northern bank of the Perfume River, 4km from the citadel. This Temple of Literature spanned roughly three hectares, and at its peak featured nearly 20 structures. The site is flanked by two rows of 32 stone doctorate stelae, which feature the names of 293 scholars with the top scores in 39 national exams from the reign of Minh Mang to the reign of Khai Dinh (1822-1919).

Beside the Temple of Literature to the west lies the National University, which was constructed in 1803. In 1908 it was moved to the east of the Imperial Citadel at the behest of Emperor Duy Tan. Further up from the National University lies the Temple of the Holy Parents, dedicated to Confucius’ parents. To the east of the Temple of Literature stands the Temple of Martial Arts, dedicated to the founders of martial arts and grand generals who performed illustrious deeds. Stone stelae bear the names of winning martial artists.

Tran Bien Temple of Literature – Dong Nai

Asked by Emperor Le Thanh Tong to erect doctorate stelae for the first time in the Hanoi-Thang Long Temple of Literature in 1484, Grand Lieutenant Than Nhan Trung wrote: “Talents are the vitality of a nation. Strong vitality denotes strong national footholds and prosperity, while languishing vitality heralds national weakness and decay. Hence, all generations of emperors held the education of talent, the recruitment of intellects and the nurturing of the national vitality in high regard as a crucial task.”


Since 1993, the Hue Temple of Literature has been part of a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site – the former Hue Citadel. The Temple of Literature of Thang Long – Hanoi is not just a site of special national significance but also boasts 82 doctorate stelae registered by UNESCO in 2010 as a Documentary Heritage in the World Memory Program. Vietnam’s Temples of Literature are an invaluable part of our heritage to be treasured for generations to come.