Qufu Confucius Temple is the original temple for sacrificing to Confucius and served as the model for the other 2000 Confucian temples in China, Korea, Japan,Vietnam, Indonesia, Singapore and America. It was built in 478 B.C. and continued as a center for sacrifices for over 2400 years. It is the most ancient temple in China and also one of the most famous architectural complexes now existent.
Leading up to the temple is Divinity Road, a solemn avenue lined with pine trees. The main body of the spacious temple is organized around a central axis, giving it a symmetrical and precise design. There are nine courtyards both in front and back of the temple, some of them simple with small shaded lanes, others standing out for their grand architecture, with golden tiles, red walls and green trees all adding radiance to each other. The noticeable harmony of the architecture and nature reflect the breadth and depth of Confucian thought.
Jingsheng Yuzhen Workshop
The Chinese teacher Mencius ever appraised Confucius as follows: “Confucius advocates Jinsheng and Yuzhen”. These words signify the whole process of musical performance, Jinsheng meaning the beginning and Yuzhen meaning the ending. This communicates the broad integration of ideas within Confucian thought and also extols its great contribution towards culture.
Thus, later generations named the first stone workshop “Jinsheng Yuzhen”. Jinsheng Yuzhen workshop contains four stone inscriptions, as well as four octagonal stone columns decorated with lotus flower platforms and with engraved unicorns, colorfully named “roaring towards the sky”. Four Chinese characters “Jin Sheng Yu Zhen” were written here by the famous calligrapher Hu Zuanzong in the Ming Dynasty (1538 A.D.)
Behind the workshop is Panshui Bridge, a single-arched stone bridge, with stone pedestals on its surface and the Panshui river running beneath it. There are two steles behind the bridge, which were set 1191 A.D. and are engraved with the words: “officials must come down from their horses here”. Hence it has the name “Dismounting Stele”. In the past, common people were supposed to dismount here to show respect, and even the emperor was expected to do the same when coming for a sacrifice.
Lingxing, also called Tiantian Star, is one of the names of the location in Beijing for the primary sacrifice to the gods. Because the same name is used in Confucius Temple, it equates the importance of Confucius and the gods. Lingxing Gate lies behind Panshui Bridge, and is supported by broad stone pillars topped with twelve dragon-headed valves. On either side of Lingxing Gate are two workshops. The southern one is called Taihe Yuanqi workshop, and is shaped similarly to Jinsheng Yuzhen. It is where grand coordinator of Shandong, Zeng Xian wrote inscriptions here to extol Confucian thought. The northern workshop, Zhishengmiao, is made of white marble, with three rooms and four columns decorated with engravings of clouds, traditionally symbolizing good luck and longevity.
The later generations chose the words “Virtue in the Universe”, and “Doctrine at all Times” to extol the profound influence of Confucian thought in Chinese society. Thus, two symmetrical wooden memorial archways have been built on either side within the first courtyard of Confucius Temple.
Shengshi Gate was built in the Ming Dynasty in 1415 A.D. as a three-room space, and was later enlarged into a five-room space with three arches within. It has a blue-tiled top, a deep-red outer wall and an apricot pink interior, with engraved dragons on its stone pedestals.
Looking into the archway, you can feel its depth and mystery, and on the other side you will find thick ancient cypresses rising above a green yard. In the front are three arches with narrow rivers running through them. Blue waves and lotus leaves adorn the arches and exquisitely engraved stone railings surround it.
The bridge was called “Bishui Bridge” and has two doors in the east and west. The eastern one is called “Kuaidu Door”, which comes from the phrase “feeling delighted to see it as the first one”. The western door is “Yanggao Gate”, a name derived from the Analects of Confucius. In the past only the emperor was allowed to enter it from Kuaidu door while the common people could only come into the temple from Yanggao Gate.
Hongdao Gate, to the north of Bishui Bridge, was used as the front door of Confucius Temple during the Ming Dynasty. According to the Analects, the gate got the name Hongdao (meaning to advocate morality) to extol what Confucius did in expounding the doctrines of emperors Yao, Shun, Yu, and Tang, four of the earliest emperors of China. Below the gate are two Yuan Dynasty steles. The eastern one, stating “annals of previous dynasties in Qufu County”, has very high historical value. The western one is “Emperor Chushi’s gravestone” and has significant value in calligraphy.
Passing Dazhong Gate, you will enter No.4 courtyard in Confucius Temple. Dazhong Gate, originally called Zhonghe Gate, is longer and narrower than Hongdao Gate, and has five rooms in all. It was the entrance gate of Confucius Temple during the Song Dynasty. Later, it got rebuilt and today’s gate dates from the Qing Dynasty. There are two buildings with green tiles on each side of the gate, which were built in Yuan Dynasty in 1331 A.D.. Together they make Confucius Temple as august as an imperial palace and serve as guard posts as well.
Entering Dazhong Gate, you can see Tongwen Gate ahead, a seven-room gate topped with yellow tiles. Coming through Tongwen Gate, you can see a tall pavilion rising up. This is Kuiwen Pavilion, a famous book archive in Confucius Temple. It was built in the Song Dynasty in1018 A.D. and rebuilt in 1504.
Kuiwen Pavilion is 23.35 meters high, 30.1 meters wide and 17.62 meters deep, with yellow roof tiles, three-layer eaves and four-layers of ornamented supports known as dougong. It is an extremely solid structure, proven by surviving many attacks and earthquakes for hundreds of years since it was rebuilt. A great earthquake in the 18th century brought considerable destruction to Qufu, but Kuiwen Pavilion stood firmly, a fact which has been recorded in Xibei Pavilion.
Two steles stand in front of Kuiwen Pavilion. The eastern is one called “Ode to Kuiwen Pavilion”, and was composed by Li Dongyang, a famous poet of the Ming Dynasty. The western one is “Record of Rebuilding Kuiwen Pavilion”, and tells of the things that Emperor Zhengde ordered the Ministry of Rites to include in the rebuilding process.
There are two unattached courtyards in the eastern and western parts of the main courtyard which were used to fast and bathe before sacrificing to Confucius.. In the Qing Dynasty, emperors like Kangxi and Qianlong bathed here before sacrificing to Confucius. The western yard was where the emperors' officials bathed and rested while accompanying him for a sacrifice. In the Qing Dynasty, Kong Zhaoxun, a 71st-generation descendant of Confucius, collected over 130 steles from the Song, Jin, Yuan, Ming and Qing dynasties and embedded them into the wall of the courtyard, changing its name into “Stele Yard”. The styles of the steles vary, some being fluid and unrestrained, while others are elegant and finely-structured. Many are of the highest quality.
Passing through Kuiwen Pavilion is the No.6 courtyard of Confucius Temple. Here stand thirteen stele pavilions, eight in the south and five in the north, with flying dougong supports and roofs with graceful upturned eaves and yellow tiles. Thirteen-stele Pavilion was built especially for preserving imperial steles of feudal emperors, and is called “Pavilion of Imperial Steles”. It has 55 steles inside, which were engraved during the Tang, Song, Jin, Yuan, Ming, Qing dynasties as well as the Republic of China.
The two square stele pavilions from the Jin Dynasty, unrestrained and broad in their style, are the earliest constructions in Confucius Temple. The steles in each pavilion actually tell a story, mostly describing a tortoise-like animal, called Bixi, which was said to be the son of the dragon. It is said that the dragon had nine sons altogether, and each had a special talent. Bixi was good at bearing heavy burdens, so it was assigned to carry steles.
The earliest steles in these pavilions are two steles from the Tang Dynasty from 688 AD and 719 AD. The largest stele was set in the Qing Dynasty in 1686 AD and is located in No. 3 stele pavilion, weighing an enormous 35 tons alone and about 65 tons if the Bixi beneath the stele and the drip pan are included. The stone for this construction came from the Xishan Mountain near Beijing and it is quite amazing in the technological conditions of ancient times that these steles could be transported safely to Qufu, 1000 kilometers away.
In the south-east and south-west parts of this yard are true forests of steles. Inside the rails of the north wall is a large quantity of stone inscriptions, which were engraved when the emperors and ministers in past dynasties did repairs or sacrificed in the temple. Certain steles record stories about the Red-headband army at the end of Yuan Dynasty and some peasant revolts in the middle of the Ming Dynasty, offering rare historical data for the research of peasant revolts. At the two sides of the pavilion are Donghua Gate and Xihua Gate.
To the north of Thirteen-stele Pavilion is Dacheng Gate, which is No.7 Gate of Confucius Temple, with five inner doors, arranged side by side. “Dacheng”, which means the highest achievement, reflects what Mencius said of Confucius: “Confucius can be said to be the one who has all the highest achievements.” In this way, he extolled that Confucius had reached the highest state of ancient wisdom. With five doors open wide, the temple is divided into three routes: Chengxian Gate, where the ancestors five generations before Confucius were consecrated; Qisheng Gate, with Confucius’ parents consecrated inside; Zhonglu Gate, the middle route, was mainly used for offering sacrifices to Confucius and his wife, as well as to people of virtue in previous dynasties.
Apricot Altar was said to be where Confucius gave lectures, and where he played musical instruments as his students did their reading. In the Song Dynasty in 1018 AD, Kong Daofu, the 45th offspring of Confucius, supervised the further building of Confucius Temple, extending its main hall. In the Jin Dynasty, a pavilion was first built above the altar and the famous scholar Dang Huaiying, wrote “Apricot Altar” on it.
Liangwu, the houses on two sides of Dacheng Hall, was where the later generations consecrated the ancient men of wisdom, who were mainly famous scholars of the Confucian school, such as Dong Zhongshu, Han Yu, and Wang Yangming. There were over twenty of these people in the Tang Dynasty, and by the beginning of the Republic of China the number had reached 156.
The images here were originally carvings, but were replaced with statues in the Jin Dynasty and later with wooden tablets during the Ming Dynasty. Nowadays, stone inscriptions from previous dynasties are displayed in Liangwu. In East Wu over 40 inscriptions of Han, Wei, Sui, Tang, Song and Yuan Dynasties have been preserved, among which the most precious are “Inscriptions of Han, Wei and Beichao Dynasties”, which contain 22 in all. The most famous West Han Inscription is “Wufeng”, and the most famous Beichao period inscription is “Zhang Menglong”.
In West Wu, over 100 “inscriptions of Han figures” are displayed, which are all well-known art treasures. These inscriptions tell very rich stories, including mythological figures such as Blue Dragon, White Tiger, Rose Finch, and Tortoise. They also show contemporary life in activities like fishing, singing and dancing, acrobatics, medicine and hunting. As to its technique, some are refined while others are bold and unconstrained. The 584 “Yuhong Building Inscriptions” in the north of Liangwu were done by the posterity of Confucius, who collected and copied the scripts of previous famous calligraphers.
From the north of Apricot Altar, you can see a large golden hall raised up high on a platform, surrounded by two layers of stone railings. A plaque high above between the eaves of the roof welcomes visitors with three golden characters: “Da Cheng Hall”. These ancient characters, one meter in diameter, were written by Emperor Yongzheng of the Qing Dynasty.
Dacheng Hall is the main building of Confucius Temple. It is considered one of the “Three Great Halls in the East” together with Taihe Hall in the Imperial Palace and Songtiankuang Hall in Dai Temple. It is 24.8 meter high, 45.78 meters wide and 24.89 meters deep, with grand eaves and yellow tiles. Dacheng Hall has an organized and concise structure, with grand eaves and interlaced dougong supports, as well as resplendent pictures and sculptures along the walls and girders.
On the main corridor stand 28 stone pillars, all of them carved from whole stones. Reaching six meters tall and nearly one meter thick, they were made in 1500 A.D. by Huizhou craftsmen during the Ming Dynasty. Eighteen stone pillars as well as the eaves behind them are decorated with Yunlong (a Chinese motif of dragons in the clouds), each side having nine dragons and each pillar having 72. According to the memories of some craftsman, there were originally 1296 engraved dragons altogether.
Beneath the eaves in the front of Dacheng Hall are ten pillars full of deep relief, two dragons rising out of each pillar, hovering with a genuine pearl in its mouth. The ten dragon pillars are each unique, with all of the faces exquisite and lifelike. These ten pillars are one of the major art treasures in Qufu. It is interesting to note that the dragon motif which they carry was traditionally supposed to be reserved for imperial palaces. In fact it was said that in the Qing Dynasty when Emperor Qianlong came here to offer sacrifices, that the stone pillars were wrapped with red cloth for fear that the emperor would see them and become enraged.
The center of Dacheng Hall is consecrated with a statue of Confucius, a coronet on his head and in imperial costume, sitting at over three meters tall. On both sides are four supporting characters; in the east are Fu saint Yanhui and Shu saint Kong Ji while in the west are Zong saint Ceng Can and Ya Saint Meng Ke, whose sitting height are all 2.6 meters. Besides these, there are twelve sages outside, including 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 two meters each.
All the statues sit in gilded wooden shrines. The Confucius statue uses one shrine by itself, with dougong supports and one dragon engraved on each pillar, vivid and shimmering. As to the four supporting characters and 12 sages, each two share a shrine, also with ornamented dougong. In front of each shrine are altars and incense burner tables, on which are various sacrificial vessels. Musical instruments used in sacrifices are also displayed.
Outside the hall are ten plaques and three couplets, which were written by Emperor Yongzheng, Emperor Kangxi and Emperor Guangxu.; the one on the south wall is “Shi Zhong Li Ji” by Emperor Qianlong. Every plaque is six meters long and 2.6 meters high, with gilded engraved dragons. The hall, built on a two-layer base, is where singing and dancing during sacrifice used to be held. Today it is used for Baqiao dance performances on the anniversary of Confucius’ birthday.
At the end of the winding corridor of Dacheng Hall, you can find Resting Hall, another one of the three great buildings of this temple, and the place where Confucius’ wife was consecrated. Gilded dragons and phoenixes adorn the walls of its eleven rooms. Along the corridor, 22 stone pillars engraved with phoenixes and peony symbolically reflect the royal concubine system. Within the main hall are wooden dragons and phoenixes, along with several shrines, one of which contains the memorial tablet of Confucius' wife.
Shengji Hall is a large hall where a stone-carved history Confucius’ whole life is preserved. It is located behind Sleeping Hall and is No. 9 courtyard of Confucius Temple. It was built in the Ming Dynasty 1529 A.D. following the specifications of the censor He Chuguang. According to his advice, the original wood-carved pictures, which reflected Confucius’ life story, were changed into stone inscriptions embedded into the inner walls, making the famous “Shengji Drawing”, with 120 pictures altogether.
Each picture in the Shengji Drawing is around 60 centimeters long and 38 centimeters wide, and shows a scene from Confucius' life. Twenty of the images show the sacrifices to Confucius made by the emperors Han Gaozu Liubang and Song Zhenzong Zhao Hengyi.
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