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singapore flagThian Hock Keng commemorates Confucius Birthday

The 27th day of the 8th lunar month is the birthday of Confucius, 孔子. In 2007, it falls on 7th October and the event is commemorated at the Thian Hock Keng天福宫.

The temple was crowded with devotees early in the morning. A visual survey suggest that this event was an opportunity for family outing for at least three, maybe even four, generations of a family. The parents were queuing to purchase offering items while the grand parents queued together, roamed around the temple with their grandchildren or chatted with friends.

The main prayer area was the Main Hall of Thian Hock Keng that houses the sculpture of the Sea Goddess, Mazu, 妈祖. A sculpture of Confucius was placed in the main hall for the public to pay respect to.

The side hall dedicated to Confucius was also crowed with devotees. On the wall facing this side hall was an elegantly design board offering information about Confucius and his teachings. Slips of papers with questions on Confucius and Confucianism were available for the public to fill up. All the information could be found on the board and completed slips earn the participant a nice souvenir fan.

Many children and adults were moving along the panel either reading or searching for the answers. This innovative educational activity was highly successful and well received since many people were walking around with their souvenir fan and obviously very happy to have earned it. 

The official prayer ceremony began at 9 am. Representative of Hokkien Huay Guan (Hokkein clan association) and Thian Hock Keng paid respect to Confucius. The short ceremony was followed by a dance performance. Performers were young artistes dressed in traditional dress with a modern touch who performed in the main hall. This was follow by chanting by a group of Buddhist Venerables.

After the prayer ceremony, members of the public were invited into the main hall to pay their respect and for children to ask for blessings in their studies and intellectual development. The ceremony was conducted again at 11am, 1pm and 3pm.

While all of these were going on, busloads of tourist arrived and had the opportunity to witness a living institution in action.

This event to commemorate the birthday of Confucius also brought out many interesting facets. The crowds that turned up demonstrates that Confucianism as an ideology still has very strong appeal in modern Singapore and is an important aspect of Chinese cultural identity.

Thian Hock Keng’s event to commemorate Confucius birthday becomes an opportunity for extended family members to organize an outing. Visiting the temple together allows members of various nuclear families to reconnect and interact as an extended family.

In traditional China, parents hoped their sons would emerge as a top scholar in the imperial examinations. Today, parents hope their children, male or female, will excel academically, hopefully earn a degree and embark on a successful career.

While commemorating Confucius birthday, grandparents and parents also asked for their blessings for grandchildren and children’s studies. It reflects the culturally conditioned aspiration for their children and the traditional emphasis of scholarship in Chinese society.

More importantly, it shows how traditional notions of academic excellence transcend changes in political-social system and gender notions to continue to shape parent’s aspiration for their children.

The children’s participation in the ceremony is a form of cultural reproduction. They experienced the ceremony, learned about Confucius from their parents and participated in the Thian Hock Keng Temple’s innovative QnA program that earned them a souvenir fan.

On a wider time horizon, Thian Hock Keng continues to be a major cultural space in Singapore. Throughout its history, it serves society by playing various roles to address the needs of each historical period.

In the age of globalization, concerns has been raised about the possible or perceived erosion of local culture by global mass media culture. Tian Hock Keng’s event participated by different age groups offers a platform to understand the resilience and fluidity of local cultural identity in a sea of social change.

Event date: 7 October 2007,
27th day of the 8th lunar month, year of the Rat

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Devotees purchasing offering and
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