06:28 Paul Robinson 0 Comments

“Better a diamond with a flaw than a pebble without” - Confucius

The most famous of Chinese philosophers, Confucius, had an awful lot to say. He lived 500 years before Christ and he spent his time devising the codes, ethics and values by which Chinese society is still based upon today. He lived in Qufu, a small town near my own Chinese hometown.

The historic town is built in the traditional style with straight roads, city walls and the obligatory central palace copied from the Forbidden City. The architecture had its charm but the town felt quite Disneyfied – pretty but soulless. Within the city walls, the old town had beautiful palaces and temples but there was no street life. The only people around were the marauding Chinese tour groups, who each had a tour guide who did their best to shout louder than everyone else.
 Despite Qufu seeming only here for tourists, getting entrance tickets was a bit of a pain. We found a tourist kiosk and queued with everyone else, but we arrived at the front of the queue and were refused sale by the miserable saleswoman. We asked around and everyone pointed us back to the same tourist kiosk. We walked around the palace and the endless stalls of tourist tat and eventually found someone who would actually sell us an entrance ticket.

Plagiarism in China is nothing new. Today, they rip-off computer technology and designer clothes. Back in the past, they counterfeited architecture. Historically, when a warlord vanquished his enemies he would build a copy of their temples and palaces. Copying became commonplace. In China it seems, imitation is the best form of flattery. Primarily, architects would create conscious replicas of the Forbidden City in Beijing. The Confucius Palace in Qufu proudly claims to be one of the largest complexes to be modelled on the Forbidden City. The Confucius Temple felt very familiar. Lots of gates, courtyards and temple buildings. It was pleasant but just too customary.
 A problem that both the Forbidden City and Confucius Temple is the lack of an engaging narrative. It seems to be a peculiarly Chinese trait to ignore the stories and instead recite facts. The guidebook was a real page-turner;

“The Chenghua Tablet was erected in Ming Dynansty by Ming Emperor Xianzong. The tablet is 6.2 metres high and the base is 1.25 metres high. The rigorous and dignified regular inscriptions, written by Ming Emperor Xianzong were well acclaimed by people.”
Riveting. Honestly. Why not tell us what the inscriptions actually say? Or why they were so 'well acclaimed'?

 After finishing the Confucius Temple, we visited the Confucian mansion, which was more of the same. Courtyards, facts and figures. Wearily we headed to the Confucius Forest where all of Confucius' descendants are buried.

The forest was peaceful, inviting and a great place to spend time. We left the main paths and the tour-trollies and wandered through woods of bluebells and gravestones. Nature can be so refreshing. Afterwards, we joined the main path again, playing jokes and pulled faces as the passing tourists.

We had a pleasant time in Qufu but I'm glad we only stayed there for the day. For all the history surrounding the town, it just felt sterile. Almost as if it was a modern replica of a once fabled town.

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