The First Writing Ceremony in Jianshui Confucius Temple

Open pen ceremony is a traditional Chinese form of enlightenment education for children to start learning to read and write. In ancient times, schoolchildren would wake up early on the first day of school and go to the classroom where their tutor would teach them the most basic and simple principles of life, as well as reading and writing. After this, they would bow to the statue of Confucius to symbolize their entry into school and begin their studies. This ceremony was commonly known as “breaking the veil” and was a very important event for every scholar, as it was considered one of the four major ceremonies in life.

In ancient China, “open pen” was the term used to describe the beginning of literacy and learning for children. Only after going through the “open pen” ceremony could children enter school to learn. Therefore, it is known as “the first great ceremony of life”. On the first day of school, children would worship Confucius and perform the “open pen” ceremony to cultivate their children’s desire to learn and seek knowledge, as well as to cultivate their sacred feelings for knowledge and traditional culture.

The process of the Opening Pen Ceremony

  1. Attire and appearance

Attire and appearance not only serve as a means of modesty, but more importantly, they reflect a person’s spiritual outlook. As the saying goes, “First put on proper attire and then clarify matters.” Attire and appearance are the best carrier of our ancestors’ excellent qualities, and they are also the first step for children to understand the principles of literature and reason.

  1. Vermilion opening wisdom

The so-called vermilion opening wisdom is to use vermilion to mark a red mole in the center of the forehead of a newly enrolled child, also known as “opening the heaven’s eye.” “Mole” rhymes with “wisdom,” meaning the opening of wisdom. This tradition is meant to convey a wish for the child to be wise and knowledgeable from then on, symbolizing that the child will be bright-eyed and clear-minded, eager to learn, and able to read and understand what they read.

  1. Drum beating to enlighten wisdom

The purpose of drum beating to enlighten wisdom is to help children see and hear clearly, be enlightened, and create achievements in their careers.

  1. Inking and redness

The step of inking and redness primarily involves having children write the Chinese character “人” (meaning “human”) under the guidance of their teacher. The choice of this simple yet profound Chinese character is meant to wish for children to learn how to be human in their early stages of life, to know that being human first and foremost means to stand tall and upright, like the character “人” does.

  1. Enlightenment education

Enlightenment education is the first lesson for newly enrolled children on their long journey of seeking knowledge.

  1. Sealing of wishes

Children write their wishes on a strip of red cloth and hang it on a red string around the ancient banyan tree, symbolizing that their wishes will come true in the future.

As society becomes increasingly open, children today eat Western fast food, wear Western clothes, learn foreign languages, and play computer games. Most “new generation of computer users” even write incorrectly in penmanship, and they often dismiss other excellent traditional cultures.

The rebirth of the “Opening Pen Ceremony” is an effort to correct this unhealthy trend. A grand ceremony helps children view school learning as a sacred mission, enhances their interest in learning, and should start with the immersion of traditional culture from childhood.