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Memorial Temples


A memorial temple is a place to offer a sacrifice to dead ancestors or the late sage, including Wise Men's Ancestral Hall, Ancestor's Hall (orZong Ci) and Fane, of which the Ancestor's Hall is the most popular. It is the place to worship clan ancestors, also called ancestral halls. It is the combined core of clan power and religious authority.

The Memorial to Prime Minister Wen Tianxiang (Wen TianxiangCi) was built in 1376 during, the reign of the Ming Emperor Hongwu, to commemorate the Southern Song (1127-1279) national hero Wen Tianxiang. Today the memorial stands on the northern side of the entrance to South Fuxue Alley near Beixinqiao, inBeijing.

The memorial once housed three ancient scholar trees, as well as a "Prime Minister" elm and a date tree with their branches and trunk leaning very noticeably southward. According to local legend, these trees represent Wen Tianxiang's longing for his old home in the south. The three scholar trees disappeared long ago, but the date tree is still thriving.

A eulogistic couplet reading "The Song Dynasty's Top Ranking Scholar and Prime Minister, theWestRiver's Filial Son and Loyal Subject," is carved into the columns of the memorial's main hall. In the center of the hall stands a sculpture Wen Tianxiang holding an official tablet before him. To the left with Wen's likeness and below with the 32-character "Clothes and Belt Inscription" which ends with the lines "… and today and ever after his conscience is clear." Four large inscribed wooden plaques hang inside the hall. They read, "Loyalty and devotion to old friends"; "Righteousness in heaven and on earth"; "The utmost in benevolence and justice"; and "The Song Dynasty survives here." A screen bears the complete text of Wen Tianxiang'sSong of Righteousness(Zheng Qi Ge).

Wen Tianxiang (1236-1282) was born in Luling (present-day Ji'an), Jiangxi Province. In 1256 he was the top scholar in the imperial examinations and successively held posts in the Ministry of Punishments and in local government offices in Hunan and Jiangxi. When the Yuan armies began moving southward and steadily closed in on Hangzhou, Wen Tianxiang received orders to negotiate a truce, but was arrested by the Yuan force. He escaped and returned to Wenzhou where he led the Song troops into battle. In 1278, Wen was taken prisoner after suffering a defeat at Haifeng and made two unsuccessful suicide attempts. Wen sternly refused to surrender and wrote a poem which ends with two famous lines:

What man is ever immune from death?

Leave me with a loyal heart shining in the pages of history.

In 1279, he was put to death. Wen Tianxiang's execution site was traditionally thought to have been the firewood market in the Teaching Loyalty District near the present-day entrance of Fuxue Alley, and thus the memorial was established here. His famous patriotic poems and essaysSong of Righteousnesswas written while he was in the Yuan Dynasty military prison.

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