Hometown of Confucius venerates the great sage

Timothy Francis Hughes
Qufu's three most important sites, the Temple of Confucius, the Cemetery of Confucius and the Kong Family Mansion, were all listed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 1994.
Timothy Francis Hughes

A statue of the great philosopher stands at the Temple of Confucius in Qufu, Shandong Province.

Foreigners with little knowledge of China certainly are familiar with the name Confucius, the ancient sage whose pearls of wisdom — like the Golden Rule — are commonly quoted throughout the world.

But perhaps less-known is his birthplace in Qufu, Shandong Province, where he is also buried. It’s increasingly become a popular destination for domestic and foreign visitors alike, with tourism contributing about a third of the city’s economy.

Qufu’s three most important sites are the Temple of Confucius, the Cemetery of Confucius and the Kong Family Mansion. All were listed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 1994.

Confucius was born in 551 BC and died 72 years later. The name is a Latinized version of the Mandarin Kong Fuzi, meaning Master Kong. Confucius championed strong family loyalty, ancestor veneration and respect for elders. His principles have become closely entwined with Chinese tradition and beliefs.

Confucius never lived to see the deep and widespread impact his teachings and philosophy had on the world.

Visitors to Qufu can view the platform where he once taught and the Alter of Apricot in the temple, built by later emperors to commemorate the apricot tree under which Confucius often gave lessons.

Within two years after his death, Confucius’ former house in Qufu was consecrated as a temple. Twelve different emperors paid 20 visits to Qufu to worship and pay homage to the master.

The original three-room house of Confucius was removed from the temple, which has undergone 15 major renovations and 30 large-scale repairs over the centuries. Today’s version was completed in 1730. The temple is the second-largest historical building complex in China, after the Forbidden City, and has 460 rooms.


Dacheng Hall is the architectural centerpiece of the present-day Temple of Confucius.


Exquisitely carved patterns on the arch of the Lingxing Gate

The main buildings include the Stele Pavilions, the Alter of Apricot, Lingxing Gate and the Kuiwen Pavilion. Dacheng Hall, or the Great Perfection Hall, is the architectural centerpiece of the present-day complex.

The nearby Kong Family Mansion housed the descendants of Confucius until 1937, when the Japanese invaded China and they had to flee.

In their day, descendants were in charge of tending to the temple and the cemetery. They oversaw elaborate religious ceremonies to mark occasions such as harvests, rites honoring the dead and birthdays. They also served as local magistrates

The mansion was built in 1038 and originally connected to the temple. It was moved a short distance away in 1377 and expanded into three rows of buildings with 560 rooms and nine courtyards. The mansion was gutted by fire in 1887 and later rebuilt in traditional Chinese style. Today it comprises 152 buildings with 480 rooms.

In the Cemetery of Confucius, visitors are struck by an aura of past and present converging. They can walk through arches standing before prominent descendants of Confucius or alongside a newly dug gravesite that still lacks vegetation.

The original tomb erected in memory of Confucius on the banks of the Sishui River was shaped like an axe. The present-day tomb is on a cone-shaped hill with a stone stele.

In 1331, construction began on the wall and gate for the forested cemetery. By the late 18th century, the perimeter wall reached a length of 7.5 kilometers, surrounding the tombs of more than 100,000 descendants of the great sage.


The Cemetery of Confucius is the longest-existing family mausoleum in the world.

Space there now comes at a premium. The mausoleum has ceased the practice of erecting large stone grave markers, but the earthen mounds of each grave are retained. More recent descendants have been cremated.

How does one qualify to be buried among Confucius and his descendants? There are strict rules. Descendants who committed a crime, died before the age of 18 or became a monk of any religion are barred. Also excluded are barren daughters-in-law or any female descendant whose husband’s surname was not Kong.

People who are not descendants but wish to be buried at the site must show five generations devoting their lives to the care of the mausoleum of Confucius before they can have their surnames changed to Kong and are entitled to interment.

To this day, grave robbers remain a threat as thieves scour to find gold, jewelry and other items buried along with the dead.

Confucius is not the only magnet to draw many people to this area of Shandong. To the north of Qufu lies the city of Tai’an, sitting in the shadow of historic Taishan, or Mt Tai. This holy place, the source of inspiration to centuries of scholars and poets, is depicted on the back of 5-yuan banknotes.

The mountain, one of the “five sacred mountains of China,” is famous as a viewing point for sunrises. Its highest summit is Jade Emperor Peak at 1,533 meters. Visitors can climb 7,200 stone steps to the top of East Peak, where there is a temple complex. Taishan Mountain was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987.

Located at the base of the mountain is the Dai Temple, built in honor of the god of Mt Tai. It is one of the three oldest buildings in China and contain features of the imperial palace.

The temple was constructed over 2,000 years ago and houses a famous 60-meter-long painted mural that depicts the journey of the Northern Song Dynasty Emperor Song Renzong and his entourage of 700 to pay homage and sacrifices to the mountain god.

If you go:

Admission: 140 yuan for the three Confucian sites

How to get there: It takes about four hours from Shanghai to Qufu by high-speed train. From the train station, a 30-minute taxi ride will reach the Confucian compound.


The Taihe Yuanqi Arch in the Temple of Confucius was built in 1544. Taihe means "supreme harmony," while yuanqi refers to natural energy.

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