Though it may, at first glance, appear to be little more than a small town in the south of Shandong, QUFU (曲阜, qŭfù) is actually of immense historical and cultural importance. Confucius (孔子, kǒngzǐ) was born here around 551 BC, and, having spent his life teaching his moral code – largely unappreciated by his contemporaries – was buried just outside the town, in what became a sacred burial ground for his clan, the Kong. His teachings caught on after his death, however, and despite periodic purges (most recently during the Cultural Revolution), they have become firmly embedded in the Chinese psyche. All around the town is architectural evidence of the esteem in which he was held by successive dynasties – most monumentally by the Ming, who were responsible for the two dominant sights, the Confucius Temple and the Confucius Mansion, whose scale seems more suited to Beijing.

Qufu is an interesting place to stop over for a few days, with plenty to see concentrated in an area small enough to walk around. As it’s a major tourist destination, however, you’ll have to expect the usual crowds and hustles – especially around the end of September, on Confucius’s birthdate in the lunar calendar, when a festival is held here and reconstructions of many of the original rituals are performed. If it all gets too much, there are places to escape amid old buildings, trees and singing birds, such as the Confucian Forest to the north.

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