For our last weekend in China, we wanted to go do something cultural, but did not want to travel too far. Our friend Aya was traveling to see her boyfriend in Jining, and invited us to take the train with her from Zibo to Qufu. It was only 1.5 hours to reach Qufu from Zibo by fast train. Aya works for the railroad, and so she arranged for our tickets. The only problem was, the train that we wanted was sold out for portions of the journey, so we had to complete our ticket buying process on the train and stand up in the ends of the train for most of our journey. Uncomfortable, but doable with another adult helping with the kiddos!
Qufu is famous for being the birthplace of Confucius and Confucianism, which is a big deal in China. The city is pretty small, but there are amenities for tourists, which was nice. We stayed at a very cheap hotel- our mantra is: “It’s only for one night”- and it was an interesting cultural experience. We arrived in the evening, so we just walked to find something to eat for dinner (fast food chicken sandwiches, french fries and pizza for the win!) and waited to sight-see until the next day. A few bus loads of what looked to be middle school students stayed in rooms ALL around us. Imagine the noise in an enclosed school lunch room in middle school, and then amplify it because they are in a smaller, enclosed hallway, and then without much adult supervision, and needless to say we were happy and finally able to fall asleep AFTER they had all gone to bed for the night.
Our hotel was within long walking distance to all the major sights. The main way to get around to the different sites is by horse-drawn carriage. With our stroller, it was just easier to walk! The old part of the city is surrounded by a wall and massive stone gates stand at either end. There was a walking path from the city to out to our hotel and beyond to the cemetery where Confucius is buried, so we just took that right into the city!
Our plan of action was to check out one of the two major sights in downtown Qufu- either Confucius Mansion or the Temple of Confucius first thing in the morning, then go back to the hotel to call into church for an hour and check out. Afterwards, we would go to the cemetery and other site, and then take a taxi back to the train station with plenty of time to catch our train to Zibo… because we definitely did not want to miss our train again! Well, I got confused because Google marked the hotel in two completely different places on the map, and so when we reached a temple-looking thing, I thought that it was the Temple of Confucius because of the direction we walked. So, we bought tickets and went inside. I was a little confused when they did not offer the combo ticket I had read about, but did not think much of it. After we went in and started reading some of the placards, I realized that this was not the Temple of Confucius at all, but the Temple of Yan Hui! He was Confucius’ favorite disciple and lived from 521-490 B.C.
I have very little historical information about this temple. It was fairly small, with just a main courtyard in between buildings instead of having side courtyards like many larger Chinese temples. We passed through a series of gates, and then started getting into the buildings. It seemed that several of the buildings had just undergone renovations and received a fresh coat of paint, because the colors were much more vibrant than other temples I have seen. The colors and details of the main worship hall were awe-inspiring. The dragon coming out of the ceiling over the altar was a little scary, but I think he’s supposed to be a symbol of power and strength as well as good luck!
One may think that religious sites aren’t very kid friendly, but we have found that the Asian temples are a great place to take kids. There are many paths to take and gates and doors to check out. There are courtyards and open spaces to run. Our four-year-old likes to check out the interior of all of the rooms, and with the bright colors and paintings, I can’t blame him! We make sure to talk about proper etiquette (NO TOUCHING!) and respect for others’ religions, and we try to keep quiet and take the baby away if he’s having a hard time. In my opinion, it would be silly to pass up seeing these places and having these experiences just because we’re dragging along our kids. They have come to enjoy it as well!
Like Taoist, Buddhist and Confucian temples in China, there were several gates and pavilions before reaching the main pavilion with the main figure. In courtyards surrounding the main hall, ancient trees (mostly just trunks of dead trees that have not been cut down) from thousands of years ago stood with plaques denoting who planted them and their historical significance. In the main hall, there is usually a musical instrument area. I have never seen the instruments being played, but I assume that for festivals and other occasions worshipers play music in the hall.
Back behind the main pavilion was another building dedicated to the wife of Yan Hui with an awesome hidden gem- a series of wood carvings telling the story of Yan Hui’s life. It was really hard to capture on camera because of the lighting and protective glass, but it definitely made visiting this temple worth it for us. The attention to detail was insane! It was hard to believe that it was carved out of wood! Also in the building was a simple altar to Yan Hui’s wife. I do appreciate the thought that they honored his wife, though!
The temple of Yan Hui was on our “maybe, if we have time after doing everything else” list for Qufu. I’m glad that we accidentally visited this place first, though. It only took 45 minutes to walk through and appreciate everything- and that’s at a slow, corraling children pace. The newly-restored paint on the main hall and masterful wood carvings made it a small temple I would not recommend passing up for those visiting Qufu. Because it is a more obscure site, the tourist buses and crowds were not there like at the other sites, and in the early morning it was quite peaceful. We would highly recommend adding the Temple of Yan Hui to any itinerary in Qufu!