Tucked away towards the rear of the Temple of Confucius in Qufu is the Living Palace, which is home to a shrine honoring Qiguan Shi (亓官氏), the wife of Confucius, as a paragon of traditional Chinese womanhood.
This physical evocation of Qiguan’s virtues was probably designed as an inspiration for other women to meet the exacting standards expected of the ideal wife and mother rather than as a genuine reflection of her own ability to live up to them.
All the (admittedly sparse) evidence that exists about the marriage between Qiguan and Confucius suggests that it wasn’t a particularly happy union and that it may have ended in divorce. Even if the couple never officially parted company, Confucius spent a remarkable amount of time away from his family during his lifetime, including over ten years in exile after he left his home state of Lu in 497 BC.
The relationship between Confucius and his only son Boyu (伯魚), or Kong Li (孔鲤) as he is more formally known, is believed to have been quite distant as well. In one of only two appearances by him in The Analects, Boyu tells Chen Gang, who is commonly believed to be the disciple Ziqin, that his father did not give him any “special teaching” and whenever he ran into him only ever asked him questions about his studies. In the other one, he is asked by Confucius whether he has studied the first and second parts of the Book of Songs. How’s that for paternal affection?
Qiguan and Confucius are believed to have had two daughters as well, both of whose names are unknown. One of them probably died at an early age, while the other was married off by Confucius to a convicted criminal called Gongye Chang (公冶長), who he deemed “would make a good husband” and declared “innocent.” There are no records of whether Confucius consulted his wife or daughter about this decision. Presumably the answer is negative.
For all his championing of the virtues of filial piety, Confucius appears to have been much less eager to have put family values into practice in his daily life, preferring the company of his students and disciples over that of his wife and children.
Perhaps that was because the circumstances of his own birth were less than conventional and he grew up in poverty without a father to support him and his mother. I will recount that particular story when I move on to the cave in Nishan where, according to the legend, he was born.