Mencius is second only to Confucius in the Confucian pantheon. Born in 372 BC, just over a hundred years after the sage’s death, he was also born in the state of Lu only twenty or so kilometers away from Qufu in the small town of Zoucheng.
Like Confucius, Mencius’s father died when he was very young and as a result he grew up poor. His redoubtable mother is venerated as a paragon of maternal virtue for moving house three times despite her great poverty so that her son could finally live by a school and learn from the teachers and students who attended it.
Mencius certainly made the most of education that he received there. In addition to gaining widespread acclaim as a scholar and teacher, and he made major contributions to the development of Confucian thought. Most significantly, he argued that human nature is innately good and famously remarked that “if somebody sees a child about to fall down a well, they will immediately experience a feeling of fear and sorrow instantaneously. This feeling is generated not because they want to gain friendship with the child’s parents, nor because they look for the praise of their neighbors and friends, nor because they don’t like to hear the child’s scream of seeking help.”
Given the enormity of his reputation and fame it should come as no surprise that, just as happened with Confucius, a temple was erected in honor of Mencius in his hometown. Only a twenty-minute drive away from Qufu, it’s an absolute gem with its graceful halls and pavilions and ancient juniper and cypress trees standing amid its peaceful courtyards. If there is indeed a place to celebrate the innate goodness of the human spirit, then this it!
Just like the descendants of Confucius, multiple generations of the Meng clan thrived as a result of their ties to their illustrious ancestor. Located next to the temple, the Meng Family Mansion is a fine example of a traditional Chinese courtyard residence. The complex was originally built at some time during the late Northern Song Dynasty (960-1127), but underwent extensive renovation and expansion work during both the Ming and Qing dynasties.
Unless you are on an extremely tight schedule, you should carve out a couple of hours to pay a visit to the Temple of Mencius and the Mencius Family Mansion when you go to Qufu. Where else in the world do you have the opportunity to celebrate the lives and achievements of two giants of philosophy in one single day?