No trip to Qufu is complete without a visit to Nishan. Located in hardscrabble countryside just 30km southeast of the city, this humble hill is home to the cave in which, depending on which story you want to believe, Confucius was either born or taken to for feeding by a friendly tiger after being abandoned by his father (some versions say his mother) who considered him too ugly to be his heir.
Of the two stories, the first one is much more likely to contain a grain of truth. Both Confucius’s father, a minor official and ex-military hero called Shuliang He, and his mother, a young maiden called Yan Zhengzai who was over forty years his junior, lived nearby and may very well have roamed the hillside together and perhaps even, as the great historian Sima Qian claims, prayed there to have son.
Descriptions of the exact nature of the relationship between couple are ambiguous, not just as a result of the huge age difference between them but also because Shuliang had already sired nine daughters through his first wife and a club-footed son through a second one who was disqualified from becoming his heir because of his disability.
Whatever her actual marital status, Zhengzai was forced to leave her husband’s household when Shuliang died three years later and returned to her family home with Confucius and his older half-brother.
Naturally, no references are made to the cloudy circumstances of the couple’s union in the pavilions dedicated to Zhengzai and Shuliang in the small but delightful temple complex above the cave. In keeping with the family theme, there is also a hall that honors Confucius’s wife, Qiguan Shi; other points of interest include the Confucian Academy and temples dedicated to the local earth god and mountain spirit.
Nishan is far less developed as a tourist location than Qufu, which means that you can enjoy its natural beauty and cultural sites relatively undisturbed. Plans are being prepared, however, to develop the area as a major resort, starting with the construction of this huge statue of the sage on a nearby hillside.
Don’t say you haven’t been warned!