Qufu Confucius Temple was the original sacrificial site of Confucius and the religious hub and model of more than 2,000 other Confucius temples in China, Korea, Japan, Vietnam, Indonesia, Singapore, and the USA. The temple was built in 478 BC, making it the temple with the longest history in China. Today, it is also one of the most famous ancient architectural complexes existent in the world.
In terms of layout and structure, right in front of Qufu Confucius Temple is Divinity Road, with pine trees planted along both sides, making the scene look very solemn. The main body of the temple runs through an axis, symmetrical and precise in design. Among the 9 courtyards, the first 3 are leading main ones which feature only some small lanes lined with rows of bushy pines. Further in, a deep and serene passage cut by tall and straight pines not only shows the history of Confucius Temple but also sets off the deep thought of Confucius in a symbolic way.
The rest of the courtyards in the temple complex are set within grand architectures boasting yellow tiles, red walls, and green trees, altogether adding much radiance and beauty as the hues complement each other. These detailed design aspects serve as the reflection of both the broadness and profoundness of Confucius’ thought as well as his great achievements.
Jingsheng Yuzhen Workshop
Mencius, who was a most famous Chinese philosopher second only to Confucius, once said that “Confucius advocates Jingsheng and Yuzhen which means the whole process of musical performance (it starts from Jinsheng and ends in Yuzhen).” Thus, later generations named the first stone workshop “Jinsheng Yuzhen.” Jinsheng Yuzhen workshop has 4 stone inscriptions, with 4 octagonal stone columns decorated with lotus flower platforms on which there is a plainly engraved unicorn on each side.
On each side are engraved dragons, with 4 characters “Jin Sheng Yu Zhen” written by the famous calligrapher Hu Zuanzong in the Ming Dynasty in the 17th year of Jiaqing (1538). Behind the workshop is a single-arched stone bridge, with stone stages on its surface; under it runs Panshui. There are also 2 steles behind the workshop which were set in the 2nd year of Jingmingchang and are engraved with the phrase “officials are supposed to come down from their horses here.” As such, it got the name “Dismounting Stele.” In addition, in the past, common people and even the emperor were supposed to dismount here to show respect, which was a reflection of Confucius Temple’s reverence.
Lingxing, also called Tiantian Star, is supposed to be respected first when offering sacrifice to the gods. Thus, this gate set in Confucius Temple is called Lingxing to show that Confucius and the gods are on the same level of importance. Lingxing Gate is located behind Panshui Bridge, with a stone pillar and iron girder on which there are 12 dragon-head valves; on the 4 round stone pillars are painted Xiangyun. Efang is made up of 2 flagstones engraved with Emperor Qianlong’s writing “Ling Xing Men.”
Entering Lingxing Gate, you can see 2 workshops. The southern one is Taihe Yuanqi workshop which has a similar shape as Jinsheng Yuzhen workshop. The grand coordinator of Shandong Province, Zeng Xian, wrote an inscription here to honor Confucius’ thought. The northern workshop is Zhishengmiao, made of white marble and featuring 3 rooms and 4 columns decorated with Xiangyun. As you can see, 2 symmetrical wooden memorial archways have been built on the 2 sides within the first courtyard of Confucius Temple.
According to Mencius’ record, Confucius was the one most adaptable to the trend of the time among saints. Shengshi Gate was built in the Ming Dynasty during the 13th year of Yongle (1415). There are 3 rooms and later enlarged into 5 rooms, with 3 arches within. The gate has a bluish-tiled top, deep red wall all around, apricot pink hue inside, with engraved dragons on the stone stages. Looking into the archway, you can feel how deep and mysterious it is. Passing through Shengshi Gate, you can find thick ancient cypresses and green lawns.
In the front are 3 archways with a river running through them, with blue waves and lotus leaves floating along, encircled by exquisitely engraved stone railings. The bridge is called Bishui Bridge and has 2 doors in the east and west. The east one is called Kuaidu Door which comes from the meaning of “feeling delighted to see it as the first one.” The west door is called Yanggao Gate, which came from the Analects to honor the profoundness of Confucius’ thought. This is also the second door in Confucius Temple and in the past, only the emperor was allowed to enter it from the front door while the common people could only come into the temple from Yanggao Gate.
Hongdao Gate, to the north of Bishui Bridge, was the front door of Confucius Temple in the Ming Dynasty in the 10th year of Hongwu (1377). It got this name according to the Analects in the Qing Dynasty in the 7th year of Yongzheng to praise what Confucius did for expounding the doctrines of Yao, Shun, Yu, Tang, as well as Civil and Military Mr. Zhou. Below the gate are 2 Yuan steles. The east one, written with the text “evolution annals of previous dynasties in Qufu County,” has very high value as historical data. The west one is Emperor Chushi’s gravestone and has some value in regards to calligraphy.
Passing Dazhong Gate, visitors can enter No. 4 courtyard in Confucius Temple. Dazhong Gate, originally called Zhonghe Gate, is longer and narrower than Hongdao Gate and has 5 rooms in all. During the Song Dynasty, it was the entrance gate of Confucius Temple. Afterwards, it got rebuilt and the gate seen today was built in the Qing Dynasty. There are 2 buildings in the corners with green tiles on 2 sides of the gate, which was built in Yuan Dynasty in the 2nd year of Zhishun (1331) meant to be imperial palaces and have 3 rooms. These 2 imperial palaces together with 2 buildings in the northeast and northwest corner building are used for guarding.
Entering Dazhong Gate, you can see Tongwen Gate in the front which has 7 rooms with yellow tiles on the top and comfortable dougong design. Coming through Tongwen Gate, you can see a tall pavilion rising up and a wooden plaque under the eaves was written with “Kui Wen Pavilion.” This is the famous building which hosts collected books in Confucius Temple, well known for its rich books collected and unique architecture. It was built in the Song Dynasty in the 2nd year of Tianxi (1018) and called the “Building of Collected Books.” In the 2nd year of Mingchang, Jin Zhangzong changed the name to “Kuiwen Pavilion” while it was being rebuilt. In the Qing Dynasty, Qianlong gave a new inscription.;“Kui” is the name of a star, and the feudalist emperors in later dynasties renamed the building Kuiwen Pavilion for commending Confucius.
Kuiwen Pavilion is 23.35 meters high, 30.1 meters wide, and 17.62 meters deep, with yellow tiles on the top, 3-layer eaves, and 4-layer dougong. It has a logical structure and is extremely solid, which has been proved by many attacks and earthquake for hundreds of years since it was rebuilt in the Ming Dynasty in the 17th year of Hongzhi (1504). The large earthquake in Qianlong’s time brought considerate destruction in Qufu, but Kuiwen Pavilion stood firmly, a history which had been recorded in Xibei Pavilion.
In front of the pavilion are 2 steles. The east one is called Ode of Kuiwen Pavilion, which was composed by Li Dongyang, a famous poet in the Ming Dynasty, and written by famous calligrapher Qiao Zong. The west one is named Record of Rebuilding Kuiwen Pavilion, which is about the things that the emperor in the Ming Dynasty, Zhengde, ordered the Ministry of Rites to do in order to rebuild the building of collected books.
There are 4 imperial stele pavilions found in Kuiwen Pavilion with 2 seen in front of the pavilion, each of which is 6 meters high and 2 meters wide with some exquisitely engraved, very lifelike dragons on the top. An epitaph to be seen mainly pays reverence to Confucius. The outdoor “Stele for Rebuilding Confucius Temple” in the southeast, set in the 4th year of Chenghua (1468) and called “Chenghua Stele” at the time, was set up by Xianzong Zhu Jianshen in the Ming Dynasty. Its epitaph was also written to highly praise Confucius’ thought. The text is written in regular but elegant script with a dignified style and precise structure, thus it is well known for its exquisite calligraphy.
In Kuiwen Pavilion, there are also 2 unattached courtyards in the east and west part of the court called “Zhai Su;” these spaces were used for fasting and bathing before honoring Confucius. The east yard is where Mr. Yansheng fasted and rested. In the Qing Dynasty, emperors such as Kangxi and Qianlong bathed here before paying homage to Confucius. The west yard was where officials bathed and rested, including those who accompanied the emperor as he went to pay his respects. In the mid-Qing Dynasty, the use of these courtyards stopped. In the Daoguang Period of the Qing Dynasty, Kong Zhaoxun, the 71st generation of Confucius, collected over 130 steles from the Song, Jin, Yuan, Ming, and Qing Dynasties and inlayed them into the wall of the courtyard and changed its name to “ Stele Yard.” Some steles are fluent and unrestrained while others are elegant and unvarnished.
Passing through Kuiwen Pavilion is the No.6 courtyard of Confucius Temple. Here stands 13 stele pavilions – 8 in the south and 5 in the north, with flying dougong and yanya as well as yellow tiles all around. Thirteen-Stele Pavilion was built especially for preserving imperial steles of feudalism emperors, which is why its ancient name was “Pavilion of Imperial Steles.” The pavilion was built gradually starting from the Jin Dynasty when skillful craftsmen made full use of traditional architecture techniques to wisely solve the problem of structural space.
There are 55 steles inside Thirteen-Stele Pavilion, engraved throughout the Tang, Song, Jin, Yuan, Ming, and Qing Dynasties and the era of the Republic of China, mainly about records related to expressing condolence to Confucius, refit of the temple, and more. The 5 stele pavilions in the south were built in the Kangxi, Yongzheng, and Qianlong Periods; the 8 in the south were constructed in the Jin and Yuan Dynasties. Finally, stele pavilions No.3 and No.6 in the east were built in the Jin Dynasty in the 6th year of Mingchang (1195) while stele pavilion No.4 was made in the Yuan Dynasty in the 5th year of Yuanzhi (1268).
The 2 square stele pavilions of Jin Dynasty, which are very unrestrained and broad, were the earliest existing architectures of Confucius Temple. The steles in each pavilion are mainly about a tortoise-like animal called Bixi which was said to be the son of the dragon. It is said that the dragon had 9 sons altogether, and each was talented in some aspect. Bixi was good at bearing a heavy burden, so it was assigned to carry steles. The earliest steles in Thirteen-Stele Pavilion are 2 steles from the Tang Dynasty; one was set in the year of Tang Gaozong Zhangyuan (688) while the other in the 7th year of Tang Xuanzong Kaiyuan (719). The largest stele was set in the Qing Dynasty in the 25th year of Kangxi (1686) and is located in stele pavilion No.3 in the east of the north row. It has a weight of 35 tons and altogether about 65 tons if Bixi under the stele and drip pan were added.
The stones used for these creations came from Xishan Mountain of Beijing, meaning it is quite amazing that these immense steles could be transported safely to Qufu (1,000 kilometers away) using ancient technologies. In the southeast and southwest parts of this yard, there is a patch of jungle-like steles respectively. And inside the rails of the north wall, there is a large quantity of stones inscriptions which were engraved when the emperors and ministers in past dynasties repaired and honored the temples. They are very distinctive from the point of calligraphy art. Some other steles record the histories of the Red Headband Army that existed at the end of the Yuan Dynasty as well as a peasant revolt in the middle of the Ming Dynasty. Because of this, the steles offer very rare historical data for researchers.
In the north of Thirteen-Stele Pavilion is Dacheng Gate, which is the No.7 Gate of Confucius Temple. There are 5 paratactic doors inside. “Dacheng” refers to something that Mencius commented to Confucius. He said, “Confucius can be said to be the one who has all the important achievements.” In this way, he praised that Confucius had reached the highest state of ancient wisdom. With all 5 doors opened widely, the temple was then divided into 3 routes: the east is Chengxian Gate, where the ancestors of 5 generations earlier than Confucius were consecrated inside; the west is Qisheng Gate, with Confucius’ parents consecrated inside; the middle was mainly used for offering sacrifices to Confucius and his wife, as well as people of virtue in previous dynasties.
Apricot Altar was said to be where Confucius gave lectures. This fact was first recorded in the Fisherman Chapter of Zhuangzi: “Confucius visited Ziwei and sat on Apricot Altar. He played a musical instrument while the students read.” In the Song Dynasty in the 2nd year of Tianxi (1018), Kong Daofu, the 45th offspring of Confucius, supervised the further building of Confucius Temple principally to extend the main hall. In the Jin Dynasty, the first pavilion was built on the altar and Dang Huaiying, the famous scholar at that time, wrote his work “Aprocot Altar” in its honor.
Liangwu, the houses on the 2 sides of Dacheng Hall, was where the later generations sanctified the wisdoms of the ancestors who were mainly famous characters of the Confucian school such as Dong Zhongshu, Han Yu, and Wang Yangming. There were over 20 of these people in the Tang Dynasty, and up to the time of the establishment of the Republic of China, the number increased to 156 people. Their images were originally figures, and in the Jin Dynasty they were changed into statues. Later in the Ming Dynasty in the year of Chenghua, all were changed into wooden memorial tablets with names on them.
Nowadays, stone inscriptions of previous dynasties are displayed in Liangwu. In East Wu, over 40 inscriptions from the Han, Wei, Sui, Tang, Song, and Yuan Dynasties have been preserved, among which the most precious are the Inscriptions of Han, Wei and Beichao Dynaties, 22 in all. The most famous West Han Inscription is “Wufeng;” the precious West Han inscriptions are “Liqi,” “Yiying,” “Kongmiao,” and “Shichen;” among Beichao inscriptions, “Zhang Menglong” is considered the best. In West Wu, over 100 inscriptions of Han figures are displayed, all of which are considered well-known art treasures.
These inscriptions have very rich stories, including not only Blue Dragon, White Tiger, Rosefinch, and Tortoise in mythology, but fishing, singing and dancing, acrobatics, doctoring, and hunting which are reflections of contemporary social life as they were. As for its techniques, some are exquisite while others are bold and unconstrained. The 584 Yuhong Building Inscriptions in the north of Liangwu were created by the posterity of Confucius in the Qing Dynasty in the year of Qianlong; they collected the scripts of previous famous calligraphers and then copied them.
From the north of Apricot Altar, you can see a big golden hall high up on the stage of a 2-layer stone railing, with 3 golden characters “Da Cheng Hall” surrounded by gilded wooden engraved dragons on the blue erect plaque. The characters were written by Emperor Yongzheng of the Qing Dynasty, with a diameter of 1 meter each. Dacheng Hall is the main hall of Confucius Temple, standing 24.8 meter high, 45.78 meters wide, and 24.89 meters deep, with grand eaves and yellow tiles which, together with Taihe Hall in the Imperial Palace and Songtiankuang Hall in Dai Temple, were called the 3 Great Halls in the East. The big hall has a neat and concise structure, with grand eaves and interlaced dougongs, as well as resplendent and magnificent pictures and sculptures on the walls and girder.
Under the corridor stand 28 stone pillars which were all made from whole stones, each with a height of 5.98 meters and a diameter of 0.81 meters. They were made by Huizhou craftsmen in the Ming Dynasty in the 13th year of Hongzhi (1500). In the Qing Dynasty in the 2nd year of Yongzheng, some were re-engraved because of a fire. As well, 18 eight-ridge stone pillars in Liangshan and eaves behind are decorated with Yunlong, each side with 9 dragons and each pillar with 72. According to some circumspective craftsmen, there were 1296 engraved dragons altogether. On the eaves in front are 10 pillars of deep relievo, 2 dragons on each pillar, hovering and with a genuine pearl in its mouth.
Ten dragon pillars exist different from one to another, with pairs of 2 matched face to face. The dragons are very beautiful and exquisite carvings and also very lifelike. This is the unique engraved art treasure in Qufu, and it has been said that in the Qing Dynasty when Emperor Qianlong came to Qufu to offer his respects to Confucius, the stone pillars were wrapped with red cloth for fear that they would be found by the emperor. The architectural art of Dacheng Hall demonstrates the talent and wisdom of working people in the country and has received high praise from Guo Moruo, a very famous contemporary writer.
In the middle of Dacheng Hall is consecrated with a statue of Confucius whose sitting height is 3.35 meters with a 12-liu coronet on his head and in 12-zhang imperial costume. On the 2 sides are 4 supporting characters: in the east are Fu saint Y Anhui and Shu saint Kong Ji while in the west are Zong saint Ceng Can and Ya Saint Meng Ke, each of which have a sitting height of 2.6 meters. Besides, there are 12 sages outside: Min Sun, Ran Yong, Duan Muci, Zhong You, Bu Shang, You Ruo, Ran Gen, Zai Yu, Ran Qiu, Yan Yan, Zhuan Sunshi, and Zhu Xi, with a sitting height of 2 meters each. All the statues are set in gilded wooden shrines. The statue of Confucius statue uses 1 shrine alone, with 13-cai dougong and 1 dragon engraved in front of each pillar, hovering around the pillar, with vivid gestures and exquisitely carved details.
As for the 4 supporting characters and 12 sages, each 2 share a shrine with 9-cai dougong. In front of each shrine are altars and incense burner tables which are filled with some sacrificial vessels. In addition, some musical and dancing instruments for offering respects to Confucius are displayed.
Outside the hall are 10 plaques and 3 couplets, among which the middle one outside the door are “Sheng Min Wei You” inscribed by Emperor Yongzheng; the middle ones inside are “Wan Shi Shi Biao” by Emperor Kangxi and “Si Wen Zai Zi” by Emperor Guangxu; and the one on the south wall is “Shi Zhong Li Ji” by Emperor Qianlong. Every plaque is 6 meters long and 2.6 meters high, with gilded engraved dragons. The hall was built on a 2-layer base, connected with a terrace which is around 2 meters tall and 4.5 meters wide from east to west and 35 meters deep from south to north. The terrace was where singing and dancing during prayers were held, and now it is used for the performance of Baqiao dances at the time of Confucius’ birthday anniversary.
Along the winding corridor of Dacheng Hall, you can find another big hall behind it, surrounded by many railings. This is Resting Hall, one of the 3 great buildings of Confucius Temple and where Confucius’ wife was consecrated. It has 11 rooms in all, with gilded dragons and phoenixes on the walls. In the winding corridor, 22 stone pillars are engraved with phoenixes and peonies which reflect and symbolize the royal concubines system. In the hall, there are shrines, wooden engraved dragons, and phoenixes. In the shrines is a wooden memorial tablet on which was written the text “memorial tablet of Confucius’ wife.”
Shengji Hall is a large hall where the stone-carved comic strip about Confucius’ whole life is preserved. It is located behind Sleeping Hall and is the No.9 courtyard of Confucius Temple. It was built in the Ming Dynasty in the 20th year (1529) according to the perpetual calendar under the charge of the censor He Chuguang. According to his notes, the original wood-carved pictures, which reflected Confucius’ story, were changed into stone inscriptions inlayed in the walls inside. These were known as “Shengji Drawings,” with 120 pictures altogether.
Each picture in Shengji Drawings is around 60 centimeters long and 38 centimeters wide. They are mainly about Confucius’ life, from his birth to his death, and 20 of which are about the honoring to Confucius by Han Gaozu Liubang and Song Zhenzong Zhao Hengyi. In these drawings, there are also well-known activities and sayings of Confucius like “lumbering of Song people” and “tyranny is even more horrible than a savage tiger.” It is the first comic strip of a complete story in China, thus it has very high historical and art value.