When I arrived on the train in Yangzhou, Shandong Province this past Friday morning, I really didn’t know what to expect. WildChina sent a colleague, Cara, and myself to survey a few sites that we are planning on taking a school group to later this fall. It was important that we spend some time there to figure out logistics, test activities, and get a good feel for how the trip would run; all generally wise things to do before you descend on a site with a few busloads of middle schoolers.
We met our friendly driver Mr. Hu outside of the train station, and hopped into his car for the short ride to Qufu. As the legendary birthplace of Confucius and the location of his descendants’ ancestral home, Qufu has an almost mind-bogglingly long history. Two years after Confucius’ death in 479 BC his home was already designated as a temple, and Emperor Gao of the Han Dynasty was the first to offer sacrifices there in 205 BC. For those of us used to thinking in terms of the timelines of Western history, this longevity is absolutely incredible; yet to my Chinese friends, it is just another example of the depth and breadth of Chinese culture and history.
Confucius Temple is a beautiful and expansive historic site, and at 16,000 square meters, in China it is second in size only to the Forbidden City. We visited early in the morning when the crowds were at a minimum, and found the tall pines and numerous courtyards serenely beautiful. I was also impressed by the 9 Carved Dragon Columns (see below), which, according to legend, were covered when the Emperor visited so as not to arouse his envy.
As in the Forbidden City, my favorite part of the Confucius Temple were the smaller side courtyards and buildings – while not as impressive as the main north-south axis of structures, I find them more charming and extremely pleasant for wandering through on a sunny morning. Of course, I also love the attention to detail exhibited in many of China’s historic sites, including the way garbage cans tend to mimic their surroundings.
After a leisurely stroll through the Confucius Temple, we visited Confucius’ ancestral home, the Kong family mansion, formerly the largest private estate in China. The Kong family mansion is supposed to house “The 5 Stranges” – the strange couplet, strange monument, strange tree, strange picture, and strange beast, and so it was fun for us to try and figure out which item was the strange one. As we were a bit unclear, I decided that Cara must be the “strange beast” of the Confucius Mansion – something she didn’t exactly appreciate at the site, and has come to like even less as I have continued this trend back in the office. Sorry Strange Beast, you know what they say – if the name fits…
After a tasty Confucian banquet at the Queli Hotel, we traveled to Zhujiayu, a rural village about 2 hours by car from Qufu. When we bring our school trip here in a few weeks, we plan on doing activities like traditional tofu making, weaving, paper cutting, pancake making, and perhaps even scorpion tasting. Yum!
Zhujiayu is a so-called “longevity village”, where many residents have been known to live well into their 90s, and even past 100 years of age. While the village today only has about 20% of the residents it did in its prime, the people we met here were overwhelmingly friendly and accomodating. We helped the owners of our guesthouse harvest fresh peanuts, and woke up on Saturday morning to roosters crowing in our courtyard. After a hearty breakfast of tomato and egg noodles, we discussed logistics with the village tofu expert, and she showed us how to turn soybeans into tofu paste using her stone grinder.
It really is nice to get out of the city sometimes.