“In any case, the ‘holy city’… at least crystallizes all the ambiguities of the current rediscovery of traditional culture and Confucianism.”

Sebastien Billioud, The Sage and the People, page 197

Qufu, The Holy City

In the Imperial Era, the city of Qufu was tied to the Kong family, the lineage of Confucius’s descendants, and enjoyed the privileges of being a “holy city.” Qufu holds this significance for being both the birthplace and the burial place of Confucius. The city is often called the first Confucian temple. The city and the temple were often visited by the Chinese emperors in order to offer sacrifice to the spirit of Confucius. While the city never obtained an equivalent status to cities like Mecca and Jerusalem, it maintained a symbolic resonance to Confucianism and the Imperial Cult.

Qufu, Under the Maoist

Under the early Maoist regime, the status of being a holy city made Qufu a target for the anti-Confucian agenda of the PRC. The regime sought to destroy the symbolic religious dimensions of the city. The PRC defined the temple and its relics as “cultural” to erase the religious elements of the holy city. The preservation of the temple existed under the same language of culture, ignoring the existence of the cult that had been there. Instead, the PRC preserved the temple as museums and heritage sites. This anti-Confucianism exploded during the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) which resulted in the violent destruction of several books and steales, as well as the decapitation of statues. The sacrilegious action of this agenda included the parading and bonfire burning of the Statue of Confucius (Figure 2.2).

Qufu, The Revival

After the Cultural Revolution, the temple became a tourist attraction with a resumed fascination towards the figure of Confucius. This new revitalization of tourism in Qufu adopted a more international angle through the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). UNESCO began to list Confucian temples as World Heritage Sites after the Cultural Revolution, bringing derelict temples into focus for the international community. This new international attention, along with a renewed connection with Confucius saw the revitalization of Confucian temples as well as the creation of new ritual practices.