This weekend we went to Qufu, the birthplace of Confucius. We travelled south for about an hour in a very plush modern bus to get to Qufu and were dropped off by a run of shops on a rural road. This bus did not go into the town of Qufu so we had to get a taxi the rest of the way past herds of meandering goats. Once in the main town larger modern buildings sprang up as well as a very large and medieval looking wall. Inside the wall as well as large numbers of stalls selling some quite high quality tourist tat is the original mansion of the Kong family, Confucius’s descendants. This was very pleasant to go round. It has not been extensively restored and the peeling paintwork left a wonderful feeling of gently decaying grandeur.
We visited the famous Three Confucians, a building complex composed by Confucius mansion, Confucius temple and Confucius graveyard.
The Confucius mansion consists of a number of courtyards, each with a large hall at the centre, starting with the outermost where guests arrived leading to the final hall where only close family where allowed to go guarded by a number of fiercely armed attendants who ensured no unauthorized visitors entered. Access to this inner area was so strictly controlled that when a fire broke out there it burned for three days as so few servants where allowed to go in and put it out.
Next door is the temple of Confucius. This is a series of courtyards containing some incredibly ancient trees desperately clinging to life, some held up by poles or wires. All the trees are sacred and many do look all of their several hundred years’ age. The trees lent a slightly gloomy air to the outer courtyards feeling as if they were forced to continue year after year rather than being allowed to die and be replaced by younger trees.
The last courtyard contained the temple building itself, a huge square pagoda with some very impressive dragon decorated pillars at the front and a large gold covered statue of Confucius at the centre. In front there are incense burners containing brightly colored sticks of incense. While we where there 2 separate groups arrived gave their sticks of incense to the awaiting attendant who shouted blessings over them while they kowtowed to the statue.
The most amazing part of the complex is Confucius graveyard. This is a huge forest with at its centre the graves of Confucius and his closest followers with later generations spiralling out round and round in an ever expanding graveyard. Those who can show descent from Confucius are still buried there today. There is a feeling of immense continuity from seeing over 2000 years of one group all together in one place. There wasn’t any order to the graves that we could see, just hundreds of mounds hunkering under the trees, some marked by stele, half fallen over monoliths or squat stone horses or griffons.