A day with Confucius

Wheresoever you go, go with all your heart.
Confucius

We left Jinan yesterday morning and travelled south by bus to Qufu (pronounce Chu Fu). Small by Chinese standards, with a population of only about 86 000 people, Qufu is famous as the hometown of the great sage, Kong Fuzi, better known to us by the westernized version of his name, Confucius.

The old walled centre of Qufu is small and easy to get around on foot but the three principle sites; the Confucius Temple, the Kong family mansions and the Confucius Forest where the great teacher and his many descendants are buried, are absolutely enormous. We spent all day today exploring them.

When we stopped at the ticket office to purchase the combination tickets that would allow us to visit all three sites, we were also thinking about hiring an English guide but before we could, we were approached by a young college student who called himself Aku, an abbreviated version of his difficult to pronounce Chinese name, who offered to act as our guide for free if we would simply use his camera to take a few pictures of him throughout the day. We agreed and found him to be a delightful and knowledgeable companion.

We started our day at the Confucius Temple, China’s second largest imperial building complex after the Forbidden City in Beijing which we hope to visit in July. The temple started out as a simple memorial hall some 2500 years ago but over the ages, it mushroomed to today’s compound which covers 327.5 acres and is 1.3 km in length from north to south.

Though there is some debate about whether Confucianism should be considered a religion or simply a system of philosophy, the temple was once a site where sacrifices were offered to Confucius. He was a great thinker, a teacher, editor, politician and a philosopher whose teachings emphasized personal and governmental morality, correct social relationships, justice, loyalty and sincerity. He was a strong proponent of ancestor worship which is something we have a hard time getting our heads around but I can’t help wondering if he ever intended that nations of people should worship him. Whether it was his intent or not, many Asian cultures including Chinese, Korean, Japanese and Vietnamese have been strongly influenced by Confucianism.

After spending all morning touring the temple complex we stopped for lunch then moved on to the Confucius mansions, a maze of 450 halls, rooms, buildings and passages where his wealthy and powerful descendants lived like kings. Emperors were known to drop in for visits and a special ceremonial gate near the main entrance was opened only when this happened. The complex included administrative offices and meeting rooms, family residences, kitchens, guest rooms, studies, libraries and a treasury. A peaceful garden of flowers and greenery are found at the rear. Aku told us that his dream would be to build a home like this one in the Chinese countryside but I only coveted the garden and a few unique features like the round doorways! I could also imagine children having endless hours of fun playing hide-and-go-seek in the many passageways!

After relaxing over coffee, it was time for Aku to leave us as he had a bus to catch later in the day. We took a pedicab 2 km north to the Confucius Forest, the oldest and largest family cemetery in the world. There, Confucius and his descendants have been buried for more than 2000 years, a practice that continues up to the present time. The peaceful pine and cypress forest covers an area of more than 200 hectares. Burial mounds and memorial plaques are scattered haphazardly throughout the area. Confucius, himself, lies beneath a grassy mound enclosed by a low wall. Though most of the tourists crowded around the tomb were simply curious, there were those who knelt and others who made offerings of flowers.

After walking back to our tiny, family-run hotel where every room number begins and ends with 8, considered a lucky number by the Chinese, we’re spending a quiet evening resting our very weary feet. Our hosts don’t speak a word of English but they are clearly delighted to have us, their very first Canadian guests, staying with them.

To see what is right and not do it, is want of courage or of principle.
Confucius

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One thought on “A day with Confucius

  1. Pingback: My “Have Done” list | Following Augustine

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