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Zoucheng - the hometown of Mencius
Born roughly 100 years after the death of Confucius during the Warring States Period, Mencius ("Master Meng") is believed to have been taught about Confucianism by Kong Ji, the only grandson of Confucius. He later developped this then-popular philosophy further and focused on such concepts as the innate goodness of human nature, the importance of the right kind of education, the power of destiny and even the moral responsibilities of the ruling class. A number of feudal lords that were his disciples were inspired by his teachings to be more just rulers. Chinese philosophers in later periods were also deeply influenced by the thoughts of Mencius, especially during the Song dynasty when the philosophy experienced a second flowering as Neo-Confucianism.
The small city of Zoucheng, Mencius' hometown, is located in the south of Shandong province. Since it lies only about 20 km south of the much bigger city of Qufu, it makes sense to combine a longer visit of Qufu with a relaxing daytrip to Zoucheng. Whereas Qufu is famous worldwide as the hometown of the sage Confucius, Zoucheng is well-known in China as the hometown of the Confucian philosopher Mencius. Most Chinese people use the name Mengzi or his birth name Meng Ke to refer to this second sage of Confucianism. The two major sites in Zoucheng that are associated with this great thinker and educator are the Mencius Temple and the Mencius Family Mansion. The two important sites unfortunately receive far fewer visitors than the three Confucian sites in Qufu. Visiting the Mencius Temple and/or the Mencius Family Mansion is therefore a much more tranquil experience, especially during Chinese holiday periods when Qufu is overrun by crowds of tourists.
If you are not pressed for time, you might consider spending more than just a day in Zoucheng. That would allow you to also visit the Mencius Cemetery (Meng Lin, a.k.a. Yasheng Lin) and the Cemetery of Mencius' Mother (Meng Mu Lin). The Mencius Cemetery is in a forest with more than 10,000 cypress trees about 12.5 km northeast of Zoucheng. A sacred way of 1.5 km leads to Xiang Hall there. Mencius' tomb is easy to spot right behind that edifice. Its stele on top of a giant stone tortoise is crowned with the carved image of dragons. Thousands of Mencius' descendants are buried at this cemetery as well.
The around 2,000-year-old Cemetery of Mencius' Mother is another cemetery of the Meng clan with lots of very old tombs. Set in a forest of pine and cypress trees at the foot of a mountain in Nanfu Village, it covers an area of almost 100 acres. The tomb of Mencius' mother there behind a hall has an altar, stone tablet and stone incense burners placed in front of it.
Mencius Temple (Meng Miao)
The Mencius Temple (a.k.a. Yasheng Temple) was built in 1037 AD during the period of the Northern Song dynasty. This first Mencius Temple was located right next to the tomb of the great sage in what is now the Mencius Cemetery. Since this out-of-the-way spot made it difficult for people to come to pay their respects, the imperial court ordered the relocation of the temple in 1121 AD. The temple then found its second home at a tranquil location in the vicinity of the Mencius Family Mansion. That's where it still stands now though it underwent many periods of renovation and expansion throughout the centuries.
During China's dynastic times, several emperors personally came to Zoucheng to pay their respects and offer sacrifices at the Mencius Temple. These sacrificial rituals and worshipping ceremonies took place at the temple's Yasheng Hall (Second Sage Hall) that contains a sculpture of the sage. As the main hall of the Mencius Temple, the Yasheng Hall is located at the center of the large verdant compound. With its green-glazed rooftiles, red pillars and a floor space of more than 560 square meters, it is a truly majestic hall that doesn't need to shy away from comparisons with the halls at the Confucius Temple in Qufu.
The Imperial Tablet Pavilions as well as Mengzi's Mother Hall are other important structures at the site that no visitor should miss. At the two Imperial Tablet Pavilions, you can see many of the more than 350 carvings and tablets that are enshrined at the Mencius Temple. Created by expert craftsmen during China's imperial past as far back as the Qin dynasty and Han dynasty, these carvings and tablets are astonishing artworks that teach us a great deal about the history and customs of these ancient times. A special stone tablet bearing the four big Chinese characters for "Mother Educate One Man" stands erected in front of Mengzi's Mother Hall at the northeast corner of the temple. Mencius' mother is regarded as a quasi-saintly woman in China even today because she spared no efforts in bringing up and educating her son. Another tablet at the Mencius Temple reminds of these efforts with the inscription "Site Where Mencius’ Mother Broke the Loom to Show Her Son That the Learning Effort Should Not Be Interrupted."
Altogether, the Mencius Temple occupies a total surface area of more than four hectares (9.9 acres). The 64 buildings at the complex that is divided into five courtyards include halls, pavilions, towers, wooden houses and one stone house. Whereas the temple's main buildings are built along an axis from north to south, the less important buildings that stand on the grounds of the Mencius Temple are spread out throughout the compound.
Mencius Family Mansion (Meng Fu)
Just a short walk away from the Mencius Temple you will find the Mencius Family Mansion ("Meng Fu" in Chinese). This is where the descendants of Mencius lived for centuries. The elegant mansion can already look back upon a history of around 1,000 years. Built at some time during the Northern Song dynasty (960 AD - 1127 AD), the compound was at first used as a yamen before it became the residence of the Meng clan. During the Ming dynasty and Qing dynasty, the mansion was renovated and significantly expanded. The Mencius Family Mansion is also known as the Yasheng Mansion since Mencius is regarded as the second sage ("Yasheng" in Chinese) of Confucianism.
At this traditional courtyard style compound, visitors will find 148 buildings such as halls, towers and pavilions spread out across seven courtyards. Following the custom of the times, the public halls where the Meng clan handled their official affairs are located in the front, the residential buildings in the middle and a traditional Chinese garden as a rest area in the rear.
When entering the public area in the front of the compound, you will pass through two gates before reaching the Grand Hall. At this high and spacious hall, Mencius' descendants handled their public affairs and received the visit of officials. The next large hall behind it is Jianshan Hall which was used by the Meng clan as the place to feast with their friends. The ancestral temple of the Meng family is also located in this area of the compound just in front of the residential area.
Besides showing how the Meng clan lived in the past, the residential area in the rear of the Mencius Family Mansion now also serves as a museum for precious cultural relics such as ancient furniture, carved jade, jewels and pearls, paintings and works of calligraphy. You will also find such rare items as the emperor's cloak and court dress on display in this section of the mansion. Historical reference materials such as ancient books, imperial edicts and grants as well as the family records of the Meng clan provide invaluable insights into the structure of China's feudal society and the economic and political development of the country.
Many of these different priceless historical relics are on display at the Shien Hall. Built in the style of traditional Chinese courtyard architecture, it is the main structure in the residential section of the Mencius Family Mansion. The other two important structures in this part of the compound are the Cishu Tower and the Yuanlu Tower. Both of these towers are now used as a space for the storage and preservation of cultural relics, especially the historical books and documents. The valuable painting scrolls and calligraphy scrolls that were bestowed upon the Meng family by various emperors during China's dynastic times are also kept at the Cishu Tower.