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The "San Kong" - the three Confucian sites in Qufu
The three Confucian sites in Qufu are the Confucius Family Mansion (Kong Fu), Confucius Temple (Kong Miao) and Confucius Cemetery (Kong Lin). They are all located in the center of the small city of Qufu in Shandong province. In 1994, the temple, mansion and cemetery were together inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List. Even though it is possible to visit all three Confucian sites in Qufu in one day with the Through Ticket, travelers that want to form a more lasting impression of each site are advised to only visit one site per day. Leave the rushing about to the Chinese tour groups that make up a large percentage of the total number of visitors each day! There is a lot to see after all, more than 100 buildings at the Confucius Temple (that covers a gigantic area of 218,000 square meters!), 152 buildings at the Kong Family Mansion and the tombs of Confucius and more than 100,000 of his descendants at the Confucius Cemetery.
Confucius ("Master Kong") was a philosopher, politician and teacher during the Spring and Autumn period. A temple to commemorate him was built in 478 BC next to the three-room house where he had lived. His original house was removed from the temple complex in 611 AD. The Confucius Temple however grew steadily over the centuries even though it was destroyed by fire multiple times. Altogether, the Confucius Temple in Qufu was renovated 15 times throughout its history. The buildings you see there today were originally constructed at various times between the Jin dynasty and Qing dynasty.
The Kong Family Mansion was relocated and rebuilt at its present location in 1377 AD during the time of the Ming dynasty. Its complete renovation in 1838 AD was paid for by the Qing dynasty emperor. The last descendants of Confucius that lived there had to flee in 1937 during the Second Sino-Japanese War.
The tomb of Confucius can be found at the Confucius Cemetery which is located about 2 km north of the temple and mansion. It covers a large area of 183 hectares and is the last resting place of some of Confucius' disciples and more than 100,000 of his descendants. According to historical records, the cemetery is about 2,340 years old so the oldest tombs date all the way back to the time of the Zhou dynasty. Over the centuries, the cemetery grew larger and larger since it wasn't enclosed by a wall at first. Construction of the cemetery gate and enclosing wall only began in 1331 AD. Altogether, the Confucius Cemetery was renovated and extended 13 times during its long history. It saw its darkest days during the time of the Cultural Revolution when it was desecrated by Chinese Red Guards.
Confucius Family Mansion (Kong Fu)
The Confucius Family Mansion was the official residence of the descendants of the Kong family between 1377 and 1937. It is located directly to the east of the Confucius Temple to which it was once connected. The mansion is basically divided into three different sections, a central section and an eastern and western section. Altogether, there are 152 buildings that contain 480 rooms. A 4-story refuge tower (that was never used) is the tallest among them. Some of the buildings served official functions whereas others were used as private residences for the members of the Kong family clan. The main buildings where official business was conducted are located in the front of the central section of the compound. The residential buildings are located immediately behind this administrative section. The family temple is located in the eastern section and the western section was primarily used as a study area. There is also a garden at the back of the Confucius Family Mansion. It is known as the Back Garden or Tieshan Garden and was added to the mansion during an expansion in 1503.
When entering the premises of the Kong Family Mansion, visitors will first pass through a central courtyard. Just behind it is the section with the three main administrative halls of the compound, the Great Hall, Second Hall and Third Hall. The Great Hall was the place where official business was conducted and imperial edicts were proclaimed. A ceremonial gate (the "Gate of Double Glory") stands all alone in front of the Great Hall. It was only opened for special ceremonies or when imperial edicts arrived or even the emperor himself! That happened 20 times during the centuries (20 visits by 12 different emperors)! High-ranking officials were received in the Second Hall and the Third Hall was used by the head of the Kong family to withdraw from his official responsibilities for a while to drink some tea.
The Gate to the Inner Apartments behind the administrative section was always heavily guarded when the Kong family was in residence. Only family members and a small number of servants (most of them female) were allowed to pass through back then. During the late Qing dynasty, the female servants lived at the Rear Five Rooms just in front of the Back Garden and behind the Rear Building where the male head of the Kong family lived. His wife and concubines lived at the Front Main Building. The Front Reception Hall just behind the Gate to the Inner Apartments was used for marriage and funeral ceremonies or when relatives came for a visit. All the halls of the Kong Family Mansion are exquisitely furnished and decorated. Visitors will see many precious cultural relics on display there, some of which were once presented to the Kong family by the emperor himself!
Confucius Temple (Kong Miao)
The Confucius Temple in Qufu is the largest temple of its kind in East Asia. In its architectural style, it resembles the Forbidden City in Beijing in many ways. That is because the last major redesign of the temple took place shortly after the Forbidden City was built. There are altogether 466 rooms in the more than 100 buildings on the temple grounds. They are distributed over 9 courtyards and include majestic halls, large gates, ancestral temples, one pavilion and one altar. The two main sacrificial halls that are dedicated to Confucius and his wife are located in the rear of the central part of the temple. Sacrifices to his descendants are offered in the eastern part of the temple whereas Confucius' parents are honored in the western part.
When entering the temple, visitors will first pass through a series of gates beginning with Lingxing Gate. The division of the temple into a central, eastern and western part begins after passing through the Great Sage Gate (Dasheng Gate). Henceforth, the most important structures in the central part of the temple are the Kuiwen Pavilion, Apricot Altar and Dacheng Hall. The 2-story Kuiwen Pavilion was used as a kind of library and stored books and other writings that were given by the emperors on its upper floor. The Apricot Altar marks the spot were Confucius is believed to have taught his students under an apricot tree. It stands right in front of one of the three largest ancient halls in China. The majestic Dacheng Hall (the "Hall of Great Achievement") with its front columns with coiled dragons is the place where sacrificial offerings are made in the memory of Confucius.
Furthermore, the Confucius Temple in Qufu is also world-famous for the hundreds of large stone stelae from different historical periods that stand on its premises. Most of them can be found standing in two rows in the narrow courtyard between the Kuiwen Pavilion and the Gates of Great Perfection (Dacheng Gate). The largest steles in this area that stand on mythical bixi beasts and are crowned with dragons weigh up to 65 tons!
Confucius Cemetery (Kong Lin)
In order to reach the main south gate of the Confucius Cemetery from the center of Qufu, visitors have to pass through the north gate of the city wall and then walk straight along a tree-lined boulevard for 1,266 meters. The conehill-shaped tomb of Confucius is located at the approximate center of the cemetery. The tomb of his son is located right next to it to the east and the tomb of his grandson to the south. In front of the tombs stand stone stelae that were inscribed by notable people of the times.
Altogether, more than 3,000 stone tablets from China's imperial past still stand on the cemetery grounds. Most of them are from the time of the Qing dynasty and Ming dynasty as well as the Republic of China period. The tombs from the Qing and Ming era are found in two different parts, the former in the eastern part and the latter in the Western part. Near the tombs of the direct descendants of Confucius and former heads of the Kong family (the "Dukes of Yansheng") you will find a spirit way with animal sculptures, memorial arches, guardian figures and sculptures of mythical bixi beasts. One such area of Ming era tombs lined with spirit ways is located about 1 km to the northwest of Confucius' tomb. At this place, the Dukes of Yansheng from the 55th to the 64th generation are buried in more or less chronological order.
Besides the cultural and historical significance of the Confucius Cemetery, it is also a place of natural beauty. That is especially due to the thousands of rare trees from all over China that are believed to have been originally planted after the death of the sage by his disciples. These old and magnificent trees give the Confucius Cemetery the feel of an enchanted forest.