Songyang Academy was one of the four greatest academies for higher education in ancient China, together with Yingtian Academy in Shangqiu of Henan, Yuelu Academy in Changsha of Hunan, and Bailudong Academy in Jiujiang of Jiangxi. The Academy was an important and unique educational organization in ancient China, somehow like today’s college. It played an important role in China’s education history and cultural transmission. Nowadays, Songyang Academy is an “example” for learning ancient academy architecture, the ancient Chinese education system and Confucianism. It is located in Dengfeng and 85 kilometers (53 mi) southwest of Zhengzhou city center, with Shuangxi River flowing by in front and Songshan Mountain on the back.
Songyang Academy, built in 484, used to be an arena of Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism. It was called Songyang Temple firstly, which was an arena of Buddhism with hundreds of Buddhists. From 605 to 618, it was renamed Songyang Taoist Temple. After renaming several times, it was called Songyang Academy in 1035. From then on, it became a classical education institution in ancient China. It was also one of the birthplaces of Neo-confucianism in Song Dynasty (906-1279).
Five Rows of Buildings in Symmetrical Layout
Songyang Academy maintains its architectural composition from the Qing Dynasty (1636-1912) in a symmetrical layout. It is 78 meters (85 yards) from east to west and 128 meters (140 yards) from south to north. There are 5 rows of buildings from south to north- the gate, the Previous Saints Hall, classroom, Daotong Temple and Book-Collecting Tower. The wing-rooms on both sides of the axis line are linked together. There are 108 ancient houses all together, most of them are simple and elegant grey tiled houses with strong features of local buildings.
The front gate is a traditional Chinese gate on which hangs a plaque with the academy’s name in Chinese. The plaque is black and the characters are golden. Behind the gate is an arch. The two doors constitute the front part of the academy.
Previous Saints Hall
The hall is right behind the two doors. A statue of Confucius stood in the middle of the hall. On the wall are portrayals of other saints.
This is where Neo-Confucianists Cheng Hao and Cheng Yi gave lessons to students. There are platform, desks, chairs and other teaching tools. The east wall is drawn with the picture of Cheng Hao and Cheng Yi giving lessons. The west wall is written with the name list of teachers and the teaching traits of the academy.
This is a grey tiled house enshrined with gypsum head statues of ancient Chinese kings Yao, Yu the Great and a Duke of Zhou Dynasty (1046 - 256 BC). The back wall is hung with the picture of Yao, Yu and Duke Zhou’s inspection tour and water taming. There is a half-moon-shaped pool in front of the temple.
It was equivalent to a library in ancient time. Songyang Academy has plenty of books from the award of emperors, private donations, purchase and publications from the academy. The books could only be borrowed by the academy’s teachers and students, and they had a set of rules of borrowing and collecting.
Treasures of Songyang Academy
Stele of Tang Dynasty
The grand and exquisite stele was carved in 744 with 1,078 Chinese characters. The main content is about a Taoist making Chinese alchemy for Emperor Xuanzong. The stele weighs 80 ton (176 thousand lb), and it is a representative work of official script in Tang Dynasty (618-907).
Three Great General Officers (Three Ancient Cypresses)
In 110 BC, the Emperor Liuche visited Songyang Academy and gave them the names: The First General Officer, The Second General Officer and The Third General Officer.
The First General Officer is 12 m (40 ft) high with a perimeter of 5.4 m (5.9 yd). The body of the tree is recumbent and the top is thick and broad. The Second General Officer is 18 m (60 ft) high with a perimeter of 13 m (14 yd), it is mottled and senile but still vigorous and vibrant. Under the trunk of the Second General Officer is a corridor-liked cavity which can accommodate 5 to 6 adults. The Third General Officer was ruined in the late Ming Dynasty (around 1644). According to forestry experts, the general officer trees are the original cypresses, which at 4,500 years old are now the oldest and biggest cypresses in China.
The Stone Carving of “The Map of Dengfeng County”
The stone carving named “The Map of Dengfeng County” was carved in 1593. Scenic spots, historical sites, mountains, rivers, roads and towns in the area of Song Mountain were engraved in detail. The map has well-defined contours and accurate locations, which is extremely rare in ancient China. The stone carving is not only a scarce art treasure but also provides valuable data to research the geography, cultural relics and history of Dengfeng.
The Pagoda Tree Planted by Cheng Hao and Cheng Yi
The pagoda tree is 20 m (64 ft) high with a perimeter of 4 m (4.3 yd). The tree has a very long history but is still full of vigor. During 1068-1085, when famous Neo-Confucianists Cheng Hao and Cheng Yi came to Songyang Academy and gave lectures, they planted the pagoda tree to decorate the yard.
The Stele of Song-Mountain Temple
The stele was made in 535. It has 94 figures of Buddha on one facet and a big shrine on the other facet. This delicate stele is a first-class work of stone carving in central plains of China.