The Kong Family Mansion at Qufu in Shandong Province, also known the Family Mansion of Duke Yansheng. (Yansheng, meaning “overflowing with wisdom,” was the honorary title that successive Chinese rulers and governments gave to the descendants of Confucius from 1055 to 1935.) The mansion, originally built for a fifty-fifth-generation descendant of Confucius 1377, was rebuilt in 1503 and moved a decade later to its current location at Qufu. PHOTO BY JOAN LEBOLD COHEN
The city of Qufu, Shangdong Province, the legendary birthplace of Confucius, is the seat of the “Three Kongs:” The Temple and Cemetery of Confucius and the Confucian Family Mansion. The complex today is a major tourist site; it has been one of China’s foremost protected cultural relics since 1961 and a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site since 1994.
The Confucian Temple (Kongmiao 孔庙) and the Family Mansion (Kongfu 孔庙) lie side by side in the southern part of the Qufu, Shandong Province, the birthplace of Confucius. The cemetery (Konglin 孔林, or Wooded Park of Confucius), lies about four kilometers to the north. Together they are known as “San Kong,” or “The Three Confucian Sites.”
The Temple of Confucius was built onto the structure of Confucius’s three-room house to commemorate him in 478 BCE, a year after his death. In 153 BCE it officially became a temple of the state. During the course of history the temple has experienced four major destructive fires (with the first caused by lightning in 1499); it was rebuilt each time.
Today the temple complex measures about 650 meters from north to south and 150 meters from east to west, covering an area of about 95,000 square meters (about 24 acres). The complex contains nine courtyards comprising more than a hundred buildings that have a combined total of 466 rooms. A broad “sacred path” (shendao 神道), flanked by tall cypresses, runs through the middle of the temple. The famed Kuiwenge 奎文阁, a three-storied pavilion used as a library, stands in one of the courtyards. Walking further north, one sees fifty-three steles. They are among the temple’s five thousand stone tablets dating back to the dynasties of Song, Jin, Yuan, Ming, and Qing, (from 960 to 1912, inclusive) with epitaphs in scripts from different ethnic Chinese such as the Han, the Mongolian, and the Manchu. Some of the epitaphs are written in Phags-pa, a fabricated script with which Khubilai Khan meant to replace all other languages during the Yuan Dynasty (1279–1368).
The most important part of the temple lies farther north. It is divided into three sections. In the middle is the Dachengdian (“Palace of Great Accomplishment 大成殿). Modeled after the structures of the Imperial Palace in Beijing, it was rebuilt in 1724 after it was destroyed by another fire caused by lightning. As one of its unique features, its roof is supported by twenty-eight marble columns, embellished with carved reliefs of dragons and clouds. The use of the dragon motif, a sole privilege of the monarch that was denied to common people, shows that the descendants of Confucius enjoyed royal status.
The original residence and altars of Confucius, as well as the first four generations of his descendants, are in the east section of the temple. Confucius’s parents are worshiped in the west section. The last of the nine courtyards houses the Palace of the Sage’s Deeds (Shengjidian 圣迹殿) with carved stone portraits of Confucius and an additional 120 stone carvings from the Ming dynasty (1368–1644) depicting the political travels he made during his life time.
The Family Mansion
Adjoining the east section of the Temple of Confucius is his Family Mansion, also known as the Family Mansion of Duke Yansheng. (Yansheng, meaning “overflowing with wisdom,” was the honorary title that successive Chinese rulers and governments gave to the descendants of Confucius from 1055 to 1935.) The mansion was originally built for a fifty-fifth-generation descendant of Confucius by the Hongwu Emperor of Ming in 1377 and rebuilt by the Hongzhi Emperor in 1503. A decade later, the mansion was relocated to where it is today to be part of the “Three Kongs.”
The Family Mansion of Confucius occupies more than twelve acres, extending 352 meters from north to south. Its north end runs 111 meters long; and its south end, 193 meters. Like the Temple of Confucius, the mansion complex is also divided into three sections. Nine courtyards consisting of 480 rooms sprawl through the middle section. Stepping into the first few courtyards from the south, one finds rooms that used to serve as offices, where the Yansheng dukes performed their official duties. Further north, one enters the courtyards that functioned as living quarters. The courtyard in the far north was the family garden. The east section of the mansion includes official reception rooms, utility rooms, and an ancestral temple, and the west section was designated for private reading and social activities.
The mansion, renovated several times in history, houses a large collection of archives, costumes, artifacts, and crafts of great historical value, documenting the family’s affairs and activities from 1534 to 1948. Since 1949, research in the archives has yielded over nine thousand volumes of books.
Four kilometers to the north of the Temple and Family Mansion of Confucius is located the Cemetery (Konglin, 孔林), the largest and oldest of family cemeteries in China. A grey brick wall 7.3 kilometers long and over 3 meters high surrounds this 494-acre cemetery park, which has a number of different types of trees, many planted in the Song (96–1279) and Yuan (1279–1368) dynasties. From the memorial archway known as paifang in the very south that serves as the entrance, a sacred path over a kilometer long leads to a large castle-like structure named Guanlou (Watch Tower). A creek, dubbed Shengshui (Water of the Sage) flows from west to east across the cemetery. Across a bridge to the north is the Hall of Enjoyment (Xiangdian 享殿), where tribute is paid to Confucius through offerings of incense.
Behind the Hall of Enjoyment are the tombs of the Confucian Family, with Confucius himself in the center. On the left is the tomb of his son Kong Li. In the front is that of his grandson Kong Zisi. This peculiar layout is in conformity to a Chinese burial tradition, in which the father appears to be holding the son in one hand and carrying his grandson in the other.
In addition to the tombs of the three Confucian ancestors and their direct descendents, there are also tombs of famous people in and outside of the Confucian family. Kong Shangren (1648–1718), a famed playwright, is one of them. He is buried there because he used to show the Kangxi Emperor (1654–1722) around the cemetery. Direct descendants of Confucius have been buried in the cemetery for generation after generation, their tombs numbering more than a hundred thousand. Out of reverence and in respect for the Confucian ideal of moral strength, monarchs over the past two thousand years have renovated the Cemetery of Confucius as many as thirteen times. Today it has become not only a place for worship, but also a source for research in the burial customs from the Spring and Autumn period (770–476 BCE) to the Qing dynasty (1644–1912). With numerous trees of various species, the cemetery is also regarded as a botanical garden.
Kung Te-mao, Lan Ko, & Roberts, R. (1984). In the mansion of Confucius’ descendants: An oral history. China spotlight series. Beijing: New World Press.
Liu, C. (1997). Qufu, Home of Confucius. China Today. Beijing: China Welfare Institute. 46(9), 36–42.
Kong, Deping, & Haixia Liu. (2007). Temple and cemetery of Confucius and the Kong family mansion in Qufu [Qufu Kong miao, Kong lin, Kong fu]. Beijing: New World Press.
Kong Fanyin. (1980). Qufu Kong fu dang an shi liao xuan bian [Selected collection of archives and historical materials of the Confucian Temples at Qufu]. Jinan, China: Qilu shu she (Qilu Publishing House).
Source: Yuan, Haiwang. (2009). Confucian Sites at Qufu. In Linsun Cheng, et al. (Eds.), Berkshire Encyclopedia of China, pp. 470–472. Great Barrington, MA: Berkshire Publishing.
Scale models of Confucius (in rear) and his students at the Family Mansion. The mansion houses a large collection of archives, costumes, artifacts, and crafts of great historical value that document the affairs and activities of Confucius’s descendants from 1534 to 1948. PHOTO BY JOAN LEBOLD COHEN.
Confucian Sites at Qufu (Qǔfǔ Sān Kǒng 曲阜三孔)|Qǔfǔ Sān Kǒng 曲阜三孔 (Confucian Sites at Qufu)