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Chu Van An - teacher of the nation    
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Chu Van An - teacher of the nation
Jul 13 2017

More than 600 years have passed since the life of Chu Van An who is celebrated as the greatest teacher of all time. His life was a lesson.

Chinese thinker and social philosopher Confucius said: If you think in terms of a year, plant a seed; if in terms of 10 years, plant trees; if in terms of 100 years, teach the people.

In fact, one man did exactly that more than six centuries ago in Viet Nam.

In a country where piety to teachers is a long-standing tradition, he has been a guiding light for generations of teachers and students, not only in their pursuit of knowledge, but also as a paragon of virtue and wisdom.

Over 640 years since he passed away, Chu Van An is venerated and celebrated as the greatest teacher of all time.

Chu Van An is the only Vietnamese scholar who is worshipped in Ha Noi's Van Mieu (Temple of Literature) -Quoc Tu Giam (the first university of Viet Nam), alongside Confucius, whose teachings formed the bedrock of Vietnamese education for almost 900 years under the feudal era. He has another bigger temple exclusively dedicated to him in Hai Duong Province, around 60 km to the east of Ha Noi.

"Chu Van An mentored talented students to become senior court officials. His utterances were so stately that bad persons were scared. His austere countenance commanded respect from his students. He had a noble and virtuous character, even kings could not subjugate him. He was straightforward with kings. He deserves to be the revered teacher of all scholars in the country," wrote 15th century historian Ngo Si Lien.

Chu Van An was born in 1292 in what is Ha Noi's Thanh Tri District today, during the reign of the Tran dynasty.

According to Tang Ba Hoanh, chairman of the Hai Duong's Association of Historical Studies, as a child, Chu Van An was studious and very strict with himself. And by the time he reached adulthood, he was already a well-known, erudite scholar.

His reputation spread far and wide, attracting many students from different provinces. Some of his outstanding students rapidly moved up the ranks to become high-ranking officials, including prime ministers, and celebrated scholars, writers or poets.

He was only in his twenties when he was appointed rector of Quoc Tu Giam, the country's first college which educated princes and noble sons. One of his students later became a king.

As excellent a teacher as he was, it was his honesty and uprightness that still commands most reverence from his contemporaries and succeeding generations.

As a leading scholar of the time, he did not aspire to establish himself as a mandarin like most other feudal scholars. Instead, he devoted himself to teaching students and became a rector of the royal college only when summoned by the king.

He is said to have reprimanded his students for wrongdoings even after they'd became powerful courtiers.

His most audacious deed was to petition the king to execute seven sycophants. The petition has become famous in Vietnamese history as That tram so, or the Petition of Seven Executions.

However, his petition was turned down, and he quit all positions in the court to retreat to the mountains in Hai Duong Province and lead the life of a recluse.

Under the pseudonym of Tieu An, which means a secluded lumberjack in the forest, he spent most of his time teaching local students, compiling poetry, writing books and treating patients.

After he passed away in 1370, King Tran Nghe Tong ordered a statue of Chu Van An to be built for worship in the Temple of Literature, making him the only man in the country's history to be bestowed with such an honour. - VNS