One of the most delightful surprises I had on my first trip to Qufu a couple of years ago was an unplanned visit to the Temple of Mencius, second only to Confucius in the Confucian Pantheon. This time I decided to double down by taking a trip out to see his tomb at the Mencius Cemetery and the tomb of his redoubtable mother at the Cemetery of Mencius’ Mother.
The two cemeteries are located close to each other about a thirty-minute drive away from Qufu. The Mencius Cemetery (孟子林/Mengzi Lin) is covered by a pristine forest comprising around 10,000 cypress, oak, elm, and maple trees that were mainly planted during the latter part of the Song dynasty (960 – 1279).
The cemetery was established in 1084 when the court provided funds to purchase the land and start construction. Since then it has been rebuilt and expanded many times, most recently during the reign of the Kangxi Emperor during the Qing dynasty.
Mencius is buried in a mound located just behind a small ceremonial hall known as the Hen Palace. Ritual ceremonies are still held here to this day by the sage’s descendants. In front of his grave is a large stone stele carried by a stone tortoise and crowned by dragons. There are a number of other burial mounds and tombstones of the descendants of Mencius dotted around the cemetery.
The Cemetery of Mencius’ Mother is only about ten minutes away from her son’s. Its origins go back to an artificial garden built 2,000 years ago in the Warring States period and it sports over 12,000 trees in 68 acres of woodland. The ceremonial hall dates back to the same period that the Mencius Cemetery was established. It was rebuilt in 1744 during the ninth year of the reign of Qing dynasty Qianlong Emperor. The tomb and stele of this redoubtable lady, who has been upheld as a model of virtuous Confucian motherhood for two millennia, is located behind it. Graves of other descendants of the family are also scattered around.
It’s definitely worth taking a stroll around the grounds of both cemeteries in order to enjoy their stunning natural beauty and peace and quiet. The chances of bumping into a large tour group are extremely low because despite their charm and historical significance, they’re not on the usual Qufu Confucius circuit.