A hub of culture and history: Jining, home to Confucius and Mencius, shines as modern attraction
Published: Jun 19, 2021 03:27 PM Updated: Jun 20, 2021 11:27 PM

Jining may be less well-known than big cities like Beijing and Shanghai, however, it enjoys the status as a distinguished cradle of Chinese civilization. During the past 2,000 years, the city has played an important role in how China has grown in its glorious culture and history. 

It is the birthplace of Confucius, the great philosopher who is widely recognized to have defined the spirit of Chinese culture. The inheritor of Confucius' thoughts, Mencius, who played a great role in promoting Confucianism and is known as the "Second Sage," was also born in Jining.

It is the most important center along the Grand Canal, which, as a lifeline to transport grains from the south to the north, has been flowing for more than 1,000 years, serving as a melting pot of cultures of different parts of China.

It is also where the legendary story of Liangshan heroes happened, which is illustrated in the book All Men Are Brothers, one of China's Four Great Classical Novels. Jining people still cherish the chivalry of those brave men.

Ancient city wall of Qufu, Jining. Photo: Yang Ruoyu/GT

Ancient city wall of Qufu, Jining. Photo: Yang Ruoyu/GT

Moreover, Li Bai, the outstanding romance poet in ancient China's Tang Dynasty who was crowned as Fairy Poet, lived in Jining for 23 years. The Taibai Tower in Jining's city center is named after Li Bai to mark his often drinking liquids at the spot and having composed many beautiful poems there.

Going through thousands of years, nowadays, Jining, with a permanent resident population of 8.3 million, is known as a modern city with rich tourist resources and is developing in an ecological way. Young, courteous Jining people, who still keep the quotes of Confucius in mind, pass along the teachings of the great teacher in how they welcome guests from around the world. 

Blessed land of great minds

Talking about Jining, the most illustrious name card for Chinese nationals and foreigners alike must be Confucius.

More than 2,500 years ago, Kong Qiu, or later known as Confucius, was born in Zouyi of the Lu Kingdom, which is today's Qufu of Jining. He set up the first private school in China and had 3,000 disciples, of whom 72 became accomplished. The teachings of Confucius center on peace and social harmony. His proverbs were collected in the "Analects" by his students.

The Golden Sound and Jade Vibration Gate at the Temple of Confucius in Qufu, Jining. Photo: Yang Ruoyu/GT

The Golden Sound and Jade Vibration Gate at the Temple of Confucius in Qufu, Jining. Photo: Yang Ruoyu/GT

Confucianism, the philosophy formulated by Confucius, has steered Chinese society for more than 2,000 years, and has seen a revival in China, and continues attracting interest from around the world.

Nowadays, the Temple of Confucius and the Kong Family Mansion still sit at the center of the Qufu town and is open to the public who wish to learn about the life and thoughts of the great philosopher.

Every year in late September, the Grand Ceremony Dedicated to Confucius is held here to pay homage to his great achievements, which attracts Confucius' descendants and people who admire Confucianism from the country and all over the world.

Today, one out of every five people is a descended from Confucius in Qufu, and they proudly inherit the treasure of knowledge, etiquette, and a host of other qualities from the remarkable ancestor.

Kong Pan, 32, is the 75th great-grandchild of Confucius. She has been working as a tour guide in Qufu for 11 years. For her, stories about and quotes from Confucius have been memorized by heart. 

"Confucius' thoughts are actually very modern," she said. "He told us to do things in a timely fashion, to do good and live in harmony with nature."

Several blocks away from the Temple of Confucius is a primary school, in which students learn and recite Confucius analects from a very young age.

Students in a primary school of Qufu read Confucius analects in the morning. Photo: Shan Jie/GT

Students in a primary school of Qufu read Confucius analects in the morning. Photo: Shan Jie/GT

 "Learning without thought is labor lost; thought without learning is perilous," students aged 8 or 9 read aloud in the morning.

In Qufu, each of its 405 villages has a Confucianism teacher and a lecture hall for regular classes. These lectures are usually given by retired teachers or prominent figures who know Confucianism. In Shandong Province, nearly 10,000 villages have set up halls for learning about Confucianism.

But Jining is not only the birthplace of Confucius. It is also the hometown of Mencius, or Meng Zi, a student of Confucius' grandson, who traveled throughout his life teaching Confucianism. Also a great philosopher himself, Mencius' concepts of human nature and his advocacies on politics and education still inspire people around the world today.

In June 1998, former US president Bill Clinton quoted Mencius during his visit to China. "A good citizen in one community will befriend the other citizens of the community ... a good citizen of the world will befriend the other citizens of the world," Clinton used the wisdom of Mencius to describe China-US ties.

Ancient etiquette performance at the Mansion of Mencius in Zoucheng county, Jining. Photo: Shan Jie/GT

Ancient etiquette performance at the Mansion of Mencius in Zoucheng county, Jining. Photo: Shan Jie/GT

Mencius' hometown, Zoucheng, a county administrated by Jining, is only about 25 kilometers from Qufu. The Temple of Mencius and the Mansion of Mencius are popular scenic spots for visitors to explore Mencius' stories, including the famous "Mencius' mother's three moves" story.

Despite the two most significant figures of Confucianism, Jining is also claimed as the birthplace of Confucius' disciples such as Yan Hui and Zeng Shen, as well as Mozi, the philosopher who founded the school of Mohism.


The "Golden Sound and Jade Vibration" show at NiShan Sacredland featuring the story of Confucius and Chinese people. Photo: Yang Ruoyu/GT

With so many great minds that were born and lived in the same land, it is no wonder that the Sihe River, which passes through Jining, is known as the "Euphrates of the Orient." 

"China being China and Chinese being Chinese largely depend on Confucianism. It inserts genes into the Chinese culture," Liu Xubing, head of Confucius Research Institute in Qufu, told the Global Times. 

Liu believed that Confucianism has a reference signification for the world that is now at an age of turbulence. "We need to cultivate our own garden, but also help those in need… this is the tradition of Confucianism."

Capital of the Grand Canal

The ancient Beijing-Hangzhou Grand Canal, stretching 3,200 kilometers from southern China to the north, has a special place in Chinese history for a whole millennium. It is the bond of economy, politics and culture, and maintains the unity of China.

Jining, located at the middle of the canal, is known as the "capital of the Grand Canal." Since the Yuan Dynasty, as a key town on the canal, it plays a great role in the building, operation, and management of the river.

The Jining section of Beijing-Hangzhou Grand Canal. Photo: Yang Ruoyu/GT

The Jining section of Beijing-Hangzhou Grand Canal. Photo: Yang Ruoyu/GT

The canal is the world's longest manmade waterway, stretching from Beijing to Hangzhou. It has a history of more than 2,500 years. Over 1,000 kilometers of the canal garnered the title of a world heritage site in 2014.

During the Yuan, Ming, and Qing dynasties, Jining was always crowned the highest administrative department of the Grand Canal. Nowadays, the ruins of Fenshui (water separation) Dragon King Temple, together with the newly built museum, are still telling the story of the Grand Canal's heydays.

The Grand Canal brings Jining not only visitors and trade opportunities, but also a unique, diverse culture. Today, people from more than 42 ethnic minority groups live in Jining, accounting for more than 8 percent of the city's total population.

Urn meat with rice, Jining's famous delicacy, shows the history of the Grand Canal. In ancient times, to serve the merchants and boatmen on the canal that stopped by Jining, local peddlers invented the convenient food that would have stewed pork and steamed rice put together in urns. 

Portable and palatable, this ancient fast food soon became popular and was handed down generations. These days in Jining and nearby regions, snack bars selling "Urn meat with rice" can be spotted on almost every street.

Hundreds of years ago, merchant boats on the Grand Canal often set off from Jining in the morning, and at nightfall they would arrive in Nanyang, an island town that sits in the middle of the Weishan Lake. In the past, when railways had not even been heard of, the Grand Canal was busy with ships. Those from the south bringing rice and silk would drop anchor there for rest and engage in trade.

Surrounded by lotuses, Nanyang town has seen the beautiful scenery of the lake and the prosperity of trades. Many emperors in ancient China visited this busy town, such as the famous Kangxi and Qianlong. 

The port of the Nanyang island on the Weishan Lake. Photo: Yang Ruoyu/GT

The port of the Nanyang island on the Weishan Lake. Photo: Yang Ruoyu/GT

Tourists can still trace the emperors' journeys in Nanyang by appreciating local operas at the wooden stage, which was built for the visit of Emperor Qianlong, and enjoying the fish feast with food ingredients obtained directly from the Weishan Lake.

A modern city eyeing the future

"It is such a pleasure to have friends coming from afar!" This quotation from Confucius known by every Chinese person now hangs right at the exit at the high-speed train station of Jining, showing the hospitality of the city.

It only takes two hours by train from Beijing to Jining, and two hours from Shanghai as well. Like in history, the city is well-connected with an advanced transportation network today.

In the past five years, the city welcomed 50 million tourists in total and is aiming to further underline its name in the world as a famous historic and cultural city.

Students at the Confucius International School of Jining have a traditional tea art class. Photo: Yang Ruoyu/GT

Students at the Confucius International School of Jining have a traditional tea art class. Photo: Yang Ruoyu/GT

Apart from maintaining precious artifacts from ancient times, Jining people get to inherit an illustrious history while writing their own modern one. 

NiShan Sacredland is the new landscape in Qufu today, which features a 72-meter-tall brass statue of Confucius. The fascinating dancing and singing shows there present the story of Confucius and the people. At night, tourists can enjoy fireworks displays and drone shows.

Not far from the Taibai Tower is the noisiest location in Jining, where people cheer with beers and barbeque, and live music does not stop until midnight.

A night view of Jining. Photo: Yang Ruoyu/GT

A night view of Jining. Photo: Yang Ruoyu/GT

In Jining's New and Hi-tech Industrial Zone, cultural and creative companies are making the stories of Confucius into cartoons, some with English subtitles so that children from other countries can learn about the classics of China.

In the Confucius International School of Jining, Kong Yu, 18, readies herself for her study abroad. "Since I was young, I have been learning about the analects of Confucianism," she said. "I will keep the principles in mind, and try to practice and promote the essences in the future."

Modern life did not fade the glory of Jining's history. People there have been ready to introduce the city to the world with what they have had in the past and what they treasure today.

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