Temple and Cemetery of Confucius
The Temple and Cemetery of Confucius, is a forest cemetery where Confucius and many of his deceased clan members rest.
The main south gate marks the beginning of the temple. The gate is reminiscent of an old castle wall and passing through the gate's large iron studded red doors foreshadow the grandeur held within. The square just beyond the gate features a bustling market packed with vendors hawking vegetable pancakes and various trinkets suggesting that Confucius must have been an excellent bargainer.
Upon entering the temple grounds, the noise of the market subsides and the tranquility of the temple brings out the scholar in us all. Quiet courtyards are home to withered pines so old they require support from metal poles. Numerous steles, honouring Confucius and his disciples, are found throughout the temple. Many of the steles are dedicated to past emperors. Most of the steles are in the south and central portion of the temple and are supported by a fabled creature resembling a tortoise. If you can't read Chinese, a booklet introducing the most important steles and buildings is highly recommended and available throughout the temple.
In the centre of the temple is the Kuiwen Pavilion, the tallest and most prominent building in the temple. This ornately decorated three-storey hall is topped with a three-tiered tiled roof and gives some idea to the wealth and influence of the Kong family. The current pavilion dates to 1504; it was originally a library to store a collection of Confucius' sayings.
In this area of the temple is a cluster of 13 pavilions housing more steles honouring the Sage and his disciples. Also here is the Pavilion of Gold Tablet, the oldest building in the temple.
Passing through Dacheng Gate brings you into the northern section of the temple, which leads into three courtyards. Just inside the gate is where a juniper tree was allegedly planted by Confucius, though the current tree was planted by a Qing dynasty emperor. In the same courtyard is the Apricot Altar, where it's said Confucius gave his erudite lectures to his disciples. The altar is one of the most important places in the Chinese cultural world. Some Chinese tourists are prepared to wait for up to 30 minutes to have their picture taken next to the famous sight.
Behind the altar is the Dacheng Hall, the main hall of the temple. The hall was originally higher than those in the Forbidden City and had to be lowered to avoid offending the emperor. This Qing dynasty hall boasts a double roof of glazed tiles and 28 magnificently carved 6m tall stone pillars on the southern side. According to legend, when emperors visited, the stone pillars had to be covered with red silk to prevent the emperor from becoming jealous of the quality of work. Inside is a brightly painted statue of Confucius where people continue to pay their respects to the ancient Sage. The solemn faces and deep bows are evidence of his continued influence; even in modern times his teachings remain relevant.
Emerging from the temple via the east exit is a quaint square where hawkers ply their trade. To the south is the ancient Bell Tower and to the east is the Drum Tower. South of the Bell Tower, with its delicate and painstaking artwork, is the Queli Arch, where emperors once went for after dinner strolls.
A short 10-minute taxi ride or 20-minute walk to the north of the mansion will bring you to the Confucius Cemetery, which is a park and cemetery. The walled cemetery is expansive, about 2km². A good half day will be required to see all of the tombs in this ancient forest. Even today Confucius' descendants are buried here to rest alongside the illustrious teacher.
The quiet forest is sprinkled with pavilions, ceremonial archways and assorted trees. According to tradition, each of Confucius' disciples planted a tree from his native province. Shady trails lined with stern stone guardians allow for quiet strolls and it's in this forest where you really get a sense of timelessness. Confucius' tomb and those of his son and grandson lie near the main gate of the forest in the southern section. Near the Sage's tomb is a hut where one of Confucius' disciples lived guarding his teacher's tomb. The rest of the Kong graves lie in a separate section of the forest. It's possible to rent a bike for around RMB 10 although bargaining is advised. A quick bus tour that stops at some of the better-known tombs is also available, though Confucius' tomb is not included in the tour. The bus tour is RMB 10 and will take 15 to 20 minutes. If you prefer exploring at a slower pace, going by foot or bike is a better option. This way you can get away from the crowds and enjoy the tranquility at your own speed.