The Temple of Confucius was the last stop in our whirlwind weekend in Qufu. When we approached the temple, we noticed that we were all the way on the other end of the walled portion of Qufu, and that because of where we stayed in Qufu, we had visited the sites backwards. We started in the cemetery, then the house of his descendants, and finally made our way to the temple.
Before this trip, I knew some basics about Confucius, his life and teachings, but I did not realize that there were actual temples dedicated to Confucius! In his lifetime, Confucius was not really that famous. What I learned is that he lived in a time of moral crisis in China. Competing states were at war and morals were declining. Confucius tried to combat this by teaching traditional Chinese values of loving others and self-discipline. His version of the Golden Rule was: “What you do not wish for yourself, do not do to others.” He taught about benevolence, respecting elders and the importance of education. When he died in 479 B.C., his teachings were not all that popular. It wasn’t until the Han dynasty in 200 B.C. that his philosophies became popular and part of the state ideology. Fast forward to today- he is regarded as one of the most famous and influential Chinese philosophers of all time!
This temple started out as just the place where Confucius taught under a peach tree. His descendants built a small temple near that spot just after his death, and then it started to expand from there. Over the years, as emperors and other important dignitaries visited the temple, they dedicated big stone tablets in his honor and the size of the temple complex grew. Like many ancient temple complexes, it has suffered damage from fires. One of the latest remodels took place right after the Forbidden City was built in Beijing, so it is laid out like the Forbidden City, with multiple courtyards, gates and buildings arranged around a central north-south axis. It is one of the largest temple complexes in China!
After reading about the size and grandeur of this temple, I was little surprised when we entered and the first few courtyards consisted of a path, a more modest gate, and tall pine trees on either side. Nothing else. As soon as we started along the central path towards the main temple, Owen found some fellow tourists and just couldn’t help holding their hands. We walked with them through the first big gate, and then said goodbye when their Chinese-speaking tour spent longer explaining something than Owen could wait.
Since this temple was renovated less recently than the Yan Hui temple, the colors on the pavilions, gates and buildings were not as bright, but it made it feel older. We admired the stone carving work on the pillars and ramps leading up to the gates. Dragons seemed to be the main motif at this temple- a Chinese symbol for power, strength, and good luck.
After walking through many gates with increasing levels of detail and decoration, we arrived at the main hall and pavilion. The pavilion pictured at right was built over the location where Confucius taught. This was his “home turf” so to speak, and when he was at home, he would teach the people from underneath a peach tree. It was easy to tell we had reached the important buildings, because golden fabric was draped on the fences all around.
In many different cultures and structures in Asia, you can tell its importance by looking at the guardians on the roof. In China, the guardians are all different animals, and Dacheng Hall, or the main hall, had many guardians!
Inside the hall, the decor reminds me of Buddhist temples, but instead of Buddha, it’s Confucius sitting there. In front is an altar with offerings piled on it, and there is a musical instruments section, which I think are used during holy days and festivals. In true Chinese style, everything is red and gold. The level of detail on the ceiling was awe-inspiring, and I couldn’t help but wonder how they achieved that level of detail so high up and so long ago!
After spending some time in Dacheng hall, we headed around back for a look at his wife’s hall. Inside, a few large displays showed some of Confucius’ direct line. There were cabinets all around with binders, which I think were filled with lists of Confucius’ descendants. How amazing to actually have written down that much family history!
It was hot in Qufu during our visit. We had just completed a long day of sightseeing and walking all over the place. We had our stroller with us, so Owen was sick of sitting in the stroller. We let him out to run around before our train ride back to Zibo, and we ran all over the place! It was exhausting following him around everywhere, and at a certain point, I thought that Austin and I had communicated to go around to the exit- him with our stuff and the stroller and me with the two boys. Well, the boys and I got about halfway out of the temple, and we couldn’t find Austin anywhere! Finally, we backtracked back to the back hall, and there was Austin, relaxing in the shade, waiting patiently for us to come back. Ergh. Communication is hard sometimes.
When we finally did meet up, we exited out the old part of Qufu and admired the old city wall. We wanted to get some dinner, but it is so hard to judge what kind of food Chinese restaurants serve, or if they will have an English menu. Well, there were a few little boys playing outside this small restaurant, and the boys stopped to say hi. I asked for a menu and they ended up having everything we wanted- noodles and rice for the boys, delicious dumplings for Austin and I. Everything was really yummy and came out quickly. I do not know the name of it, but it was about a block down the road on the south side of the old city, on the east side of the road.
Because of our experience not finding a taxi and missing our train in Tai’an, we were pretty paranoid about getting to the train station early. We found a taxi right away and arrived in plenty of time. Our friend Aya who works for the railroad bought us tickets, but there were only seats from Qufu to Tai’an available. So, we had to give up our seats in Tai’an and find a conductor to purchase tickets from Tai’an to Zibo on the train. It ended up working out OK, though. Landon found that a luggage compartment in the middle of the train made a great seat, and spend a lot of time in there until a railroad stewardess made him get out.
Qufu was an awesome weekend trip away from Zibo for our family. It is a smaller, quieter town with great historical and cultural significance. The three Confucius-related sites are UNESCO World Heritage sights, and well taken care of. For those living in China, I think it’s worth a train ride to check it out. For those visiting, unless you’re a big Confucius fan, I think that other cities and areas of the country would be more worth the time then taking the train all the way here. It is completely doable to see everything there is to see in Qufu in one day, and it can even be done in a half day if the horse cart is used to get up to the cemetery.