Notes from the field: the Cemetery of Confucius’s Parents

cemetery of Confucius's parents

The Cemetery of Confucius’s Parents has none of the stunning natural beauty of the ones dedicated to Mencius and his redoubtable mother. The tree count stands at a mere 467 compared to around 10,000 and 12,000 for the other two locations.

The cemetery is also nowhere near as old either. Construction on the main Sacrificial Hall began in 1179 and the complex only reached its current scale in 1755. Naturally, the main structures have also undergone extensive reconstruction and refurbishment over the centuries.

Cemetery of Confucius’s Parents
Tomb of Confucius’s Parents

The burial mound of Confucius’s father, Shuliang He (叔梁纥), and his mother, Yan Zhengzai (颜徵在), is located behind the main Sacrificial Hall of the complex. In front of it is a stele that was first erected by a 56th-generation descendant of Confucius in 1417. Close by is the tomb of Confucius’s elder step-brother Mengpi (孟皮).

The neat, orderly layout of the complex masks, no doubt intentionally, the unusual (some would say scandalous) circumstances of the marriage of the Shuliang He and Yan Zhengzai and the subsequent birth of Confucius. Shuliang was already in his sixties and the father of nine daughters and Mengpi when he took the young Zhengzai as his wife or concubine in order to bear a son who could carry on the family line. Mengpi was disqualified from assuming this role because of a disability, generally believed to be a club foot.

Cemetery of Confucius’s Parents

When Shuliang died three years after the birth of Confucius, Zhengzai was forced to return to her father’s home together with her son and Mengpi. After the death of his mother, Confucius continued to support Mengpi as head of the family. In Chapter 2 of Book 5 of the Analects, he is recorded as having arranged the marriage of his step daughter to his follower Nan Rong.

While I wouldn’t place the Cemetery of Confucius’s Parents on any must-see list for Qufu, it has a certain charm. It also provides a useful starting point for exploring the story of the sage’s fascinating family background that the founders of the cemetery worked so hard to gloss over in its lay-out and design.

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