This will be a long post, sorry Wen Juan Yin! Today our group went to see the Confucian temple, the Confucian study center, and the Confucian cemetery in Qufu, the birthplace of Confucius.  Kongzi (551 BC – 479 BC, pronounced ‘khong-zah’ ) is his name in Chinese and it literally means ‘Master Kong.’  Kongzi was from the peasant ‘Kong’ family, and aspired all his life to have an official post.  Wise beyond his age, he died a poor peasant still, and was unable to attain the office he was searching for.  His teachings now 2500 years old, were canonized almost immediately after his death and still permeate this nation; to say he was influential in Chinese culture is an understatement.

Kongzi’s followers are essentially split into two categories, those who follow his teachings as a philosophy and those who follow his teachings as a true religion.  Many of the Confucian temples are for the latter, the religious followers. We were fortunate enough to visit locations that were of each branch.  I’ll start with the Confucian temple.  People would pray to Kongzi for favors, knowledge, and power.  The Confucian temple was one of the most beautiful, serene (once you were out of the main squares) and ancient places I’ve ever been.  But, as with many things in China, I was torn in two (yin and yang…); between the beauty of the temple, and the aweful commercialization of the site.   I will start with the more positive yin.

The ancient walls, statues, and walkways were all made of stone carved into giant dragon pillars, chimeras, and 30ft turtles (the younger brother of the dragon, according to our guide).  The building roofs are made of stone shingles with dragon, swan, and gargoyle ornaments, also in stone. Ornate stone pillars and wood supports adorn most of the large building entrances.  The ‘temple’ is actually a huge ground with multiple giant buildings, courtyards, and stone, lots of stone (see the temple map). There was a stone path that ran through the middle of the temple that was reserved for the emperor, flanked by two side paths for his adivisors.  Many of the gates had ornate dragon scenes carved into this path for his highness.

As you walk into the complex, you have to pass through multiple gates that are the result of each Dynasty’s expansion of the complex.  The complex was founded almost immediately after Kongzi’s death in 479 BC by the Duke Ai of the State of Lu so the inner most temple squares are the oldest, expanding outward as Han, Song, Ming, and Qing dynasties expanded.  Though only some of the original stones remained as ruins or were re-used (much of the temple was rebuilt in the Ming dynasty), it was difficult to comprehend walking through a 2500-year-old site.  Traveling through each successive gate, you couldn’t help but feel as though you were traveling back in time.

The huge ope squares between buildings were like forests paved in stony moss.  Our guide, ‘Ben,’ told us that the trees in the outer courtyards were ‘not that old, maybe 400 years or more.’  I laughed out loud, “that’s twice the age of my country” I told him.  He said that there are some trees in the inner courtyard that are 1200 years old, so not to worry!  This is how the Chinese mindset is, they are very aware of their ancient culture and how young the civilizations are around them.

<open square tree shots>

The Kong family has a carved tablet in one of the courtyards that has 42 generations of family tree history, right there in the temple.  We calculated that to be roughly 1000 years of family history; the group that stood there at the stone was speechless. It is exceedingly difficult for an American to understand that kind of history.

As we were walking amongst the crowds, I noticed a side building that ran the length of one of the bigger squares so I broke off the main group and spent some time admiring the space. The area was dark, almost entirely quiet, and was lit only by natural light casting checkered light on the floor.  As I walked, I could imagine strolling the long corridor on during a cool spring morning, 2000 years ago.  It was serene.  Much of the less traveled squares on the back-side of the complex were like this, I would highly recommend traveling to them to get away from the crowds.

The grand temple was something to be admired, it was huge, and had been very well restored.  The incents burning out front also added to the atmosphere.

Now the yang side of the experience. I could not help but be insulted by the commercialization of the site. There were vending machines placed literally right on the path in the middle of these beautiful courtyards and memorabilia stores inside what once were holy temples.  Emperors from powerful dynastic heritages walked these same steps, and now they sell fake statues of them to tourists.  Sure we do this in the US, but I would argue we have more responsibility in preservation, authentic restoration, and keeping the experience as original as possible at our historical sites.

The other major issue was the noise from both the sheer amount of people, and their guides.  Each large tour group of people had their own tour guide, blasting their voice over hand held bullhorns or small wearable PA systems.  Imagine 20 bullhorns yelling Chinese at all times; it was more than distracting.  My advice, headphones or earplugs are an absolute must if you want the best experience.

All over China in the places we have visited, this ruining of cultural sites has offended me so much more than I anticipated.  I love these people and their culture, and their history is not just Chinese history, it’s a part of my history, humanity’s history and should be preserved as best as we possibly can.  The people seem to have a distinct disregard of the significance of what they have here, real history.  I’m sure much of the attitude stems from the Cultural Revolution.  On Mao’s orders, the Red Guard was sent throughout the country to destroy temples, burn ancient books, and murder the people that wanted to preserve their ancient culture.  It makes me gag, literally. The damage was so extensive that the Chinese government asked the library of Congress to loan them thousands of books because, at the time we had more Chinese literature than did the Chinese themselves.  I am confident there are people in China that love this history as much as I have come to, please please help change the temples.  Now that that’s out of the way, I’ll turn to the other two sites.

My favorite site we have been on the entire trip hands down was the Confucian cemetery. I loved it.  There were much fewer people on the grounds and there was a much greater measure of quiet respectfulness from the people touring the grounds.  The cemetery is more like a forest, the trees are very old, and the sounds of bird whistles, cicadas, and other animals drown out what little talking there is from visitors.  There are very few tombs in the area we walked that I would imagine is because there were very few that were rich enough to afford it.  The forest floor is lush, with moss covered paths winding through the forest.  Light glows along the paths (the trees break to allow light in), and as you walk over ancient stone bridges on the long path to Kongzi’s, it’s easy to get lost in the scene.   Everything is old and damp and quiet -Mystic would be a good word to describe it.  Along the path are 20ft stone statues with swords or scrolls, representing advisors to the Kong family of military and political, respectively.  Large gargoyle-like statues pave the path as well.  Kongzi’s tomb is not nearly as ornately decorated as one would imagine, as was his wish apparently.  The 2500-year-old man is buried directly next to his son, with his grandson’s tomb close ‘so that he can curl one arm around his grandson, and the other he can place on his son’s shoulder,’ a guide said.

The last location was the center for Confucian research.  The grounds were just enormous with the signature ‘square’ (though it was circular in this case) in the middle of the grand buildings.  Along the outskirts of the paths were quiet streams with drooping trees and beautiful flowers.  There were also large stone and brass mosaics of Confucian history and teachings. One such tablet had the entire Analects carved in stone down it’s side; it was quite impressive.   Inside the building were museums that showed Kongzi’s influences not only in Chinese cultures but as well as pictures from temples in areas such as Japan, Korea, Vietnam and Laos.

The day ended with a great meal at a local Chinese restaurant.  It was a long day but hands down my favorite on the trip so far.

Zai Jian,