Last week I visited the ancient, revered city of Qufu – home to the great philosopher Kongzi (Confucius). My two friends and I boarded a train from Qingdao train station in the morning and headed toward this town. Rather we inched along towards our destination for an 8-hour ride. Fast trains take about half the time, but cost at least twice as much. For a while, we were crammed together on a three-person seat until we explored other cars. After finding some sparsely populated train cars, we promptly moved and played Chinese poker for several hours.
After arriving in Qufu, we hopped on a bus, which took us to the city proper. The original city had a 20-foot stone wall enclosure surrounded by a moat and with several main archways that led into the city. Outside the walls, there was a main road with some restaurants and clothing stores and some apartment buildings further away. After leaving the bus, we walked into the city proper and were immediately accosted by a Chinese hotel worker. She wanted us to stay at their beautiful accommodations, and after receiving a reasonable price, we took her offer. The hotel was a 2-story flat with a small dining room and various bedrooms on top. We got a TV in ours, but with predominantly Chinese channels, it was a bit of a let-down. After situating ourselves in our luxurious suite, we wandered around the city.
We discovered Confucius’ Temple and his descendants’ cemetery outside of the city walls. We then visited Qufu Normal University because of Joshua’s request to see this beautiful campus. If normal meant dirty, flaky buildings, a dining hall, dormitories, and several thousand students, it was normal enough. Aside from that, it didn’t emit much of a beautiful aura. Overall it was drab and gray with uninspiring, “normal” architecture. We ate at a restaurant on campus, which was overpriced, but did fill us up at least. Once we got back to the hotel, we were ready to hit the sack for the night.
The next day comprised a whirlwind tour of Confucius’ Temple, Confucius’ Mansions, and Confucius’ Cemetery. With a 150 RMB admission fee, you can see all three sites. The temple was an impressive sight. Several doorways led to the first temple, which led to another temple, and so on. Some smaller pagodas contained a stone turtle with a 12-foot high stone tablet on its back. Usually these tablets were inscriptions of Confucius’ teachings or a message from an emperor visiting the site. Most of the temples inside were quite simple and unassuming. One of the few more noticeable ones had a giant statue of Confucius sitting on a throne with a table of honorific offerings in front. I’m not sure how Confucius would have felt about all that veneration, but he may very well have been appalled.
Our next stop was Confucius’ Mansions. They were slightly less impressive than the temple grounds, but the ancient buildings were intriguing. Some of the houses were more than a thousand years old, as were the temples, yet they seemed well-preserved for their age. We saw replicas of living rooms and bedrooms in addition to the cooking facilities. In several buildings, some ancient stone engravings portrayed the daily life of Chinese. One engraving had a dinosaur that looked somewhat like a brontosaurus. If dinosaurs were living with people back then, that engraving had to be quite ancient. Oddly enough, my favorite part of the mansions was the ancient stone engravings.
Later we walked toward Confucius’ cemetery. Initially I was thinking more of a monument to Confucius in a little plot of ground. There is a monument to Confucius, and then there’s several hundred acres of tombstones and the mounds of his descendants. The cemetery grounds were quite peaceful. Although the trees were bare, leaves formed a carpet on the ground amid the burial mounds. My friends and I followed the stone path to Confucius’ tombstone. His son and grandson also had their own individual tombstones, but Confucius had the biggest slab of stone and biggest mound behind it. For some reason, the Chinese don’t seem to fill in the earth around the coffin; instead they just pile huge mounds of dirt over the coffin. You could purchase flowers to put on Confucius’ tomb, but I was too cheap to do that. They did look nice though.
After we visited Confucius’ tomb, we walked along the stone path to see the rest of the burial grounds. It was a nice place for relaxation and meditation and for conversation too. Most tombstones were commonplace enough, but a few had a series of stone figures (dog, horse, philosopher) leading up to the tomb. I guess some of Confucius’ descendants had more nobility than others. Overall it was a peaceful place. When we left the burial grounds, we located a restaurant and consumed our food. While Qufu gets 5 stars for tourism, I would give it 2 stars for restaurants. There are few inside the city walls, and the ones that exist are overpriced with a feeble menu. But since I prefer eating to starving, I ate at the restaurant anyways. After a full day of sightseeing, we were ready to ascend the slopes of Tai-shan, or so we thought.