The history of Qufu stretches back far beyond the lifetime of the Confucius to the dawn of recorded antiquity when the foundations of the Chinese state were laid by the mythical sages known as The Three Sovereigns and Five Emperors.
Among their number was the legendary Yellow Emperor and his son or nephew Shaohao, who are believed to have reigned in around 2,600 BCE. In a pleasing but perhaps not entirely convincing symmetry, the birth place of the Yellow Emperor and the tomb of Shaohao are located directly opposite each other in a charming complex in the village of Jiuxian on the outskirts of modern-day Qufu.
The Yellow Emperor is honored by an arresting stone-clad pyramid called Shouqiu (meaning long life) with a small pavilion housing a statue on top. Originally constructed in the twelfth-century AD during the reign of the Emperor Huizong of the Northern Song dynasty, this is one of only a very small number of pyramid-shaped monuments ever built in China. Since virtually all the others were built to house tombs, Shouqiu is certainly unique in terms of its functionality.
In contrast, the tomb of Shaohao is a humble grassy mound that stands a few meters behind Shouqiu. The only signs of ornamentation are a stone altar and tablet inscribed with its name.
In the early part of the eleventh-century AD, the Northern Song dynasty Emperor Zhenzhong decreed that the city of Qufu to be moved to the area surrounding Shouqiu and also ordered the construction of the Jingling palace near to the site in honor of the Yellow Emperor.
Subsequently, plans were made to build four huge stone steles in the palace complex. Two of these tablets still survive today, and stand opposite each other separated by a small lake. The one on the east side has no inscriptions on it and is popularly known as the “Misery of the Ten Thousand People Stele”. The one on the west is called “Celebrate Long Life Stele.” Both steles are over 50 feet high, with the “Misery of the Ten Thousand People Stele” being the slightly taller of the two. It’s also heavier, weighing in at 250 tons. No prizes for guessing where its name came from.
While I wouldn’t put Shouqiu and the Tomb of Shaohao at the top of the list of places to visit in Qufu, I would definitely recommend them, not least because the more natural and untamed state of the site provides a refreshing break from the highly-manicured grandeur of the Confucian temple and mansion complexes.