Confucius, otherwise known as Kongqiu, or Kong zhongni, was born in 551 before Christ at the Nishan Mountain, Qufu City, Shandong. A great thinker and educator, Confucius established what was to become one of the three major religion-philosophies that have been of far-reaching significance in the forming of Chinese tradition for over 2,000 years, outside China known as Confucianism, the other two being Taoism and Buddhism. The effect of his philosophy has also been found in East Asia and Southeast Asia as well.
Monarchs beginning with the first emperor of Han Dynasty have been dedicating temples to Confucius. His alters were erected throughout the country, among which the Confucius’ Temple-Cemetery-Palace at Qufu, Shandong Province is the biggest ritual architectural complex. It is a combination of worship place, aristocratic house, and clan graveyard.
The temple is the central architecture of this complex, originally known as Temple of the Supreme Sage. The temple was converted from the thinker’s house by the prince of Lu, the confederate of Zhou Dynasty where Confucius spent most of his political and educational efforts. This happened in 478 BC, the year after Confucius’ death. Since then, emperors, following Emperor Hangaozu’s example, who set the precedence by personally worshiping this philosopher in 195 BC, have never stopped honoring Confucius, granting him aristocratic titles and expanding his temples. This temple became what it is like today after the renovation and expansion of Emperor Yongzheng in Qin Dynasty.
Confucius’ Temple is composed of nine courtyards, one within another, covering an area of about 210,000 square meters. The architecture is very symmetrical. Along the 1,300-meter north-south axis hinges over 460 houses and palaces, 54 gateways and 13 pavilions, housing tablets dedicated by the royals of the previous dynasties.
The major houses of the temple are Dacheng Hall, Kuiwen Hall, Xintan, and Tablet Pavilion. The oldest of them date from Jin Dynasty. The whole temple centres upon the Dacheng Hall. The palace, known as Wenxue Palace in Tang Dynasty, underwent expansion in Song Dynasty to become a seven-piece suite. The name Dacheng comes from Emperor Songhuizong’s remark, “Ancient wisdom found its best expression in Confucius”, Dacheng meaning a milestone accomplishment based on previous actions. The second renovation came in Qin Dynasty. The tablet we can see today bears the handwriting of Emperor Yongzheng, who decreed the construction. The palace is 54 metres long, 34 metres in depth and 31.89 metres in height. The 28 pillars, 6 metres high and 0.8 metres in diameter, were all carved out of whole pieces of rocks collected from near mountains. This palace is the highest of Confucius’ Temple and one of the top three palaces of China.
More than 1,100 stone tablets are housed in Confucius’ Temple, testifying the canonizing, worshiping, and temple renovation by emperors since Han Dynasty as well as poems dedicated to Confucius. These tablets are of great value in the study of the politics, economy and art of medieval China. And the temple is also called the second greatest tablet garden, next to Xi’an Tablet Exhibition in the number of tablets.
The Qufu Temple is the church of Confucianism. Throughout the history 12 emperors, beginning with Emperor Hangaozu, came here 20 times in person to worship. About 100 others sent their deputies 196 times. The temple has undergone 15 thorough renovations, 31 repairs of ordinary intensity and hundreds of regular repairs.
The Confucius’ Palace
The Confucius’ Palace, or residence of Duke Yansheng, is on the east of the temple. The first born of every generation in this illustrious family who assumed this title lived here as a privilege they owed to their noble ancestor. Emperor Hangaozu was the first to afford titles to Confucius’ descendent. He made him supervisor of Confucius’ Temple and the Graveyard. Emperors after him followed suit. Emperor Tangxuanzong changed the title into Wenxuan. And Emperor Songrenzong made it Yansheng, which became the title inherited by confucius’ descendents until 1935 when China was made a republic and dukedom was annulled. But confucius’ descendent remained honoured as the Executive Officer of the Sage Temple.
First built in 1038 and rebuilt in Ming and Qin Dynasties, confucius’ Palace is the second largest palace in China, the largest one being the forbidden city. The palace has nine courtyards, one within another, and 463 rooms, covering an area of 160,000 square meters. On the east and west sides of the axis are found respectively the clan temple and the academy. The middle of palace is divided into offices in the front and private houses and gardens behind. This is where the dukes and their families lived.
This is a combination of offices and private houses, typical of the aristocratic residence of medieval China. Confucius’ descendents cherished the intellectual glory of their family. These ritual instruments they collected are a symbol of the social-political principles on which the ancient monarchical society, Confucius’ political ideal, was founded. Confucius’ Palace also houses the Ming-Qin archive, a profound record of the history of the palace in the past 400 years. These items are of great value in the study of politics, economy, culture, philosophy, and ritual practices of ancient china.
Confucius’ Graveyard, originally known as Graveyard of the Supreme Sage, is in the north of the city of Qufu. It is the cemetery of Confucius and his descendents, the biggest and most enduring clan cemetery in the world. Confucius died in 479 before Christ and was buried by Sishui River in the north of Qufu. His descendents were all buried around his grave, making the cemetery what it is like today. Confucius’ Graveyard has undergone 13 renovations and expansions since han Dynasty. today it covers an area of 2million square meters. The graveyard has been in use for 2000 years. The latest grave owners are descendents of the 76th and 78th generations. Altogether there are 100 thousand graves here, the oldest dating from zhou Dynasty. Gravestones were used in burial since Han Dynasty. about 3600 gravestones dating to Song, Yuan, Ming and Qing Dynasties have survived. Confucius’ Graveyard is also a great stone tablets garden, displaying calligraphy of many artists throughout the history. This is a brilliant garden in which exotic plants were planted by the disciples of Confucius. Today there are more than 10,000 old-growth trees, luxuriate and ever green, many of them rare species. Confucius’ Graveyard plays an indispensable role in the study of the development of politics, economy, culture and burial practice of ancient China.
One fifth of the population of Qufu bear the surname Kong. Worship ceremony is conducted every year at Confucius’ Temple. Actually this small city owes its fame to Confucius. The architectural complex combining the temple, the palace and the graveyard is well known worldwide for the history and tradition it represents and for the cultural relics displayed here.
Confucius’ Temple at Nishan Mountain
But Confucius enjoyed none of these glories, attached to his name and shared by his descendents, in his lifetime. He spent most of his life in rugged journey, roaming from one duchy to another, finding his political philosophy rejected almost everywhere. Historical record has Confucius’ date of birth as “the day of gengzi, the tenth moon”. This traditional Chinese calendar day roughly corresponds September 8, 551 BC.
Confucius had an aristocratic descent, which can be traced back to the crown of Shang Dynasty. His father Shu Lianghe was a gentleman, and his mother is Yan Zhengzai.
Confucius’ father died when he was very young and the family began to shed its inherited glory and sink into obscurity and destitution. Confucius had to take a lot of labor work and, when he grew older, he assumed some inferior offices in charge of warehouses and pasture.
In spite of all the hardship Confucius kept a keen interest in learning. He learnt from everyone who had something to teach as he said, “Give me three persons to walk with, and I can always find something worth learning in them.” Brought up in Lu State, where ancient institutions, declining and falling to pieces practically everywhere, remained vigorous, Confucius set as his lifelong goal to restore and promote these ancient standards when he was only 15. But even in this state decadence was seen everywhere. The sovereignty was now shared by three noble families who manipulated the government, which Confucius believed justly belonged to the monarch and nobody else. As it was unjust for the dukes and princes to usurp the sovereignty of the emperor, 100 times more so was it when dukes’ titles were assumed, perversely, by their ministers. Confucius was strongly opposed to all these usurpation, which ran rampant in his state.
In 522 BC Confucius reached his 30th birthday. This was a significant year for him as he said he had himself “established at 30.” To Confucius this meant more than the security of one’s livelihood. One derived his livelihood either from his birth, if he was a nobleman, or from his wealth, or by art and labour. Confucian establishment means being well versed in ancient institutions and moral standard and voluntarily conducting one’s life accordingly. When Confucius said he had established himself at 30 he meant he had made these moral standards his guideline and had been able to live up to them without inconsistency.
This year also saw Confucius founding his own academy, the first private school in China. Commoners as well as peers came and learnt from him. Confucius made no difference between the rich and the poor and taught men who could only afford the barest tuition the same way as he taught others. Yanhui, Zeng Dian, Zilu, Yan yuan were among his earliest disciples. Even a minister of Lu state sent his sons to Confucius for discipline. Private education put an end to the official privilege of knowledge by making learning accessible to common people.
Let everybody get his desert, so that a prince behaves as a prince, a minister as a minister, a father as a father, a son as a son.
Situations in Lu State were getting worse in 517 BC, when Confucius was 35. Tensions between the three ministers and the prince of lu State at last led to a coup, driving the prince into exile. Confucius had to leave his country and went to the neighbouring state Qi. When the prince of Qi state asked him about politics, he replied, “let everybody get his desert so that a prince is treated as a prince, a minister as a minister, a father as a father and a son as a son.” The prince agreed, and intended to get Confucius into his court. But his ministers all objected so that the prince had to give up. Confucius returned to Lu state, disappointed.
Confucius went on with his education undertaking and was having more and more disciples from almost all states and duchies.
His increasing reputation didn’t bring him any opportunity in political arena. The leader of Lu State had no interest in his ideas. Nor did Confucius like to get involved into the government when everything was under the control of the three ministers, who in turn were being fettered by the conspiracy of their secretaries. Confucius had his 40th birthday in such a perverted political period. He said he could keep himself free from doubts at 40 and began to know himself and do only his business.
In 501 BC the secretaries of the three noblemen rebelled against their lords. When the conspiracy was at last stamped out, and the ministers went back from their exile, they decided that it was politically safer to employed landless intellectuals, who had capability and sound ethics than to give power to those peers who were themselves landlord and minded no laws they found inconvenient to them. They began to think of Confucius and his disciples. Confucius found the gate to power open to him when he was already 51.
In the same year Confucius was made governor of a county. One year later, he was promoted first to the military authority for satisfactory performances and then to the state judiciary.
In 500 BC Qi and lu held summit at Jiagu. Confucius was the officer in charge of the ceremony. He deployed the elite royal guard for the meeting since, as he believed, good diplomacy anticipates military action and vice versa. His prudence not only successfully baffled Qi State leader’s plot against his country but recovered the territory lost to Qi State. Confucius made a great diplomatic victory.
But all that Confucius was charged with was some trivial business. His political ideal was confederal monarchy whereas that of the three ministers was oligarchy. In many cases Confucius’s position ran counter with the interest of the three, which made their relationship difficult.
The state conducted the major worship in the 13th year of Lord Dinggong. Confucius was deliberately left behind when offers were distributed among the officials after the ceremony. He had lost favor of the power three. Confucius had to leave his country again and set on his tour round the states. He was 55 that year.
The following years from 497 to 484 BC found Confucius roaming from one state to another with his disciples, getting rejected and frustrated everywhere for his old-fashioned, unpopular politics.
After 14 years of lobbying among the states Confucius was reckoned back by his country. He was already 68 though he was highly respected at home he was kept out of power. In 16th year of Lord Aigong, when he was 73, Confucius got ill and died before long.
No philosophy has been as enduring and influent in China as Confucianism, which held sway as the orthodoxy for more than two millennia in the country’s intellectual history and permeated the social and family life of the people.
Confucius is a great ethicist too, who based his philosophy on such cornerstones as humanity, justice, reason, wisdom, and good faith. In his ethical thought, he recommended the preference for justice to worldly gains; in moral education, he proposed his five step discipline which begins with extensive inquiry, discussion and critical thinking and ends with practice. Such terms as gentleman, humanitarian and sage he redefined have not only become the moral goal of a Chinese in his ascending process of education but has furnished Chinese ethics with the basic values and guideline. The Analects, the Confucian Bible, was a collection of Confucius’ and his disciples’ discourses, compiled by the disciples. The important moral thoughts of Confucius can be seen in this book.
Acquire knowledge and, as you go on acquiring, put in practice what you have acquired.
The way to the unknown is usually to be found in the known.
Education knows no class distinction.
Confucius is also a historian and scholar. When he came back from his political tour, Confucius gave himself up to education and the editing of ancient literature such as the Book of Songs, the Book of History, Ancient Standard, Chou-I a Metaphysics, and Chunqiu the Chronicles. As a great educator, Confucius developed his own system of teaching which is consistent and practice-oriented. His educational idea is that of humanity, which centres upon character building. So morality is necessarily the primary concern in his education. He insists that one should keep acquiring knowledge and put what he has acquired in practice, and that one can always deduce the unknown from what is already known. He adopted different teaching methods for different students, but he saw no class distinction and took students from all walks of life. His students were encouraged to acquaint themselves with all humanitarian disciplines. He is said to have 3000 disciples and 72 of them were well versed in the six disciplines set for a gentleman. Confucius’ educational efforts put an end to the official privilege of learning and made knowledge accessible to all people. In this sense, the outburst of free speech and intellectual debate not very long after his death also owed a lot to his work.
Confucianism was introduced into Korea and Vietnam in 1st century BC and became the dominant thinking there, contributing to the cultural development of theses countries. The West got to know Confucianism in 16th century in the Enlightenment. This eastern philosophy, somewhat different from Christianity, seemed appealing to European scholars. Confucianism has played an important role in the history of both eastern and western civilizations. Historically, it deserves a liberal estimation.