Sunday, October 10, 2010

Walking in Confucius' Footsteps

For the yearly Beijing Review foreign expert trip, the HR department took us to Shandong Province south of Beijing to visit Qufu and Taishan. A guide picked us up at the train station for a three-day tour.

Our first stop was Qufu, the hometown of Chinese philosopher Confucius.

As widely known as Confucius and his teachings are, Qufu was small and quaint. Even with the enormous Confucius Temple (Kong Miao) and the grandiose Confucius Family Mansion and surrounding gardens, not to mention the large crowds of Chinese tourists, the town was quiet and remote, yet chock full of history. The nearby Confucius forest, where the great Chinese sage and his descendants are buried, was solemn with trees standing side by side ancient burial mounds.
But with the exception of a few smaller Chinese-style pavilions, Confucius never got to see any of it – the temple, mansion and monuments were all constructed after he died.

The temple grounds were built in rings, like the rings of a tree, with each ring contributed by a different Chinese emperor. The inner most ring housed a number of important monuments to the philosopher: a pavilion where Confucius had taught some of his students and a tree planted by Confucius himself, so said my guide. The tree leaned against one of the entrance gates to the temple ground center, held up by a long steel cable.

The Confucius family mansion was somewhat simple, not at all like the Forbidden City or other royal grounds I’d seen in Beijing or Shanghai, although Confucius’s descendants were highly regarded and revered by the emperor’s family. The mansion property was large, yet largely empty with only a few artifacts on display. Most of the Kong family (Confucius’s family name) has since relocated to Taiwan, following the end of the Chinese Civil War and defeat of Chinese Nationalist forces in 1949, but the lineage continues, now in its 83rd generation.

The tomb of the great philosopher and generations of the Kong family was located in a forest near the city’s limits. And much like his teachings, it was simple, yet elegant. A large stele displaying words of remembrance stood proudly above his resting place; a prayer mat in front for people to pay their respects. Some of Confucius’s sons were buried nearby. Large stone statues watched over the sacred grounds. Throughout the wooded area were large mounds -- the burial sites of other Confucian descendants. The graves looked like large turtle shells, shaped somewhat like septic tanks yet containing much more valuable remains. The burial mounds ran off into the forest in all directions, for miles and miles.

And the grounds were quiet, much more so than they should have been considering the flux of people who were visiting. It was like someone had pressed the mute button. The only sound was that of birds and blowing branches as I walked on the paths with burial mounds on either side.

Visiting Qufu helped put a face to a name I’d only ever read about in history books. To walk where Confucius had walked and sit where he had sat was truly inspiring. I can only hope some of that age-old wisdom rubbed off on me.

TOMBS OF THE UNKNOWN: The descendants of Confucius are buried in a forest outside of Qufu. Our guide said there were "millions" of descendants

RESTING PLACE: The tomb of Confucius

THE CONFUCIUS TEMPLE: The entrance to the Confucius Temple. The temple was built after the sage died and was visited by China's emperors and royalty

REALLY OLD TREE: Our guide told us this tree was planted by Confucius over 2,000 years ago

FAMOUS FOOTSTEPS: The three white-tiled paths were for the emperor (center path) and his aids/assistants/concubines/etc

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