Wenchang Pavilion, Yangzhou

(This article was published in the Shenzhen Daily on August 21, 2017.)

Wenchang Pavilion in Yangzhou, Jiangsu

When visiting a modern Chinese city, I often marvel at the way today accommodates yesterday--how the needs of people living there now are met while maintaining the past. Xi'an's Bell Tower, surrounded by a traffic circle, comes to mind. But the same effort has been made in other cities, albeit on much humbler scales.

I'm thinking of the Wen Chang Pavilion in Yangzhou, a city in which I was fortunate to live for a year. As in Xi'an, the city's main intersection is designed as a traffic circle, and right in the middle of it is a tower commemorating Wenchang, a Taoist deity known as the God of Culture and Literature.

Every sect devoted to him has a slightly different version of his story. One of them goes like this:

An honorable man in Sichuan died as a war hero in 374 CE, though various accounts afford him up to 17 incarnations, over a span of 3,000 years--and every time, he was a scholar. In one case, he pronounced a prophecy that rallied troops to the cause. In addition to being a brave soldier, he was a good son, exhibiting filial piety.

This gift of prophecy, and his penchant for supporting his parents, led to his being considered a great help when exams came. He offered supernatural aid on the all-important imperial exams to those who requested it, and could foretell the results (through divination).

Thus, virtually every city once had a temple dedicated to him. Yangzhou's seems to have been built in 1585. Once used for Confucian ceremonies related to scholarship, it is now primarily decorative.

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