Competitiveness through Participation: Collective Life at the Interface between Confucianism: the Civil Service and Commercialism in China

  • Gao, Y. (Speaker)
  • Nicholas Temple (Speaker)

Activity: Talk or presentation typesOral presentation


The paper examines the spatial and cultural relationships between two key institutions in traditional Chinese cities, whose intersections with the commercial streets reveal the competitive (agonistic) characteristics of collective life; the Confucius temple and the examination compound of the civil service. Focusing on the city of Kunming, in southwest China, the paper explores how the combination of bureaucratic, educational and religious activities in these two institutions created a particular form of civic space and collective identity that was sustained by competitive relationships of educational institutions and commercial activities between citizens. Historically, the civil exam system was systematically developed as a method of official recruitment. Since Confucianism was introduced to Kunming in the Yuan dynasty (1271-1369), the highly ordered spaces of Confucius temples and examination compound demonstrated the culture of ‘the rule of virtue’. It was in sharp contrast to the culture of competitive spaces in the commercial streets of the city.

The constructions of the Confucius temples and examination compound were often sponsored by merchants who continuously appealed to a Confucian culture in order to raise their social status. However, the Confucius temples and examination compound were designed according to rigid principles in order to differentiate themselves from the commercial landscape.

In the early modern period after the Qing dynasty (1244-1212), commercial activities were highly developed in Kunming. At the same time, public rituals and activities were frequently held in temples that were open to everyone in the city. We argue that spatial relationship for two institutions and continuity of the sacred ritual of education and the city life.
Period21 Nov 2019
Event title16th Architectural Humanities Research Association Conference: Architecture & Collective Life
Event typeConference
Conference number16
LocationDundee, United KingdomShow on map