China / Cover Story

Honored heritage

By Zhu Lixin in Hefei ( Updated: 2016-04-04 06:13

Honored heritage

The Kong Ancestral Temple in Hefei was built by descendants of Confucius.[Photo provided to China Daily]

An ancestral temple is a place that records the lineage of a family. It is also a physical embodiment of the family's financial strength and social influence.

One major example is the Kong Ancestral Temple in Hefei, capital of East China's Anhui province.

Many visitors at the temple in the city's Baohe district will first be impressed by the motifs of Chinese dragons on the roof beams of its structures.

In the past, the dragon was mostly depicted on the attire, buildings and other items of the imperial family; people who were not connected to the emperor but used images of the dragon could be punished.

As one of the very few exceptions, an emperor had allowed dragon motifs in the Kong Ancestral temple, since its builders were from a very special family.

Kong is the surname of the family that traces back to Confucius (551-479 BC), one of China's most famous philosophers. For thousands of years, emperors regarded him to be the greatest sage, whose direct descendants were given inheritable titles through various dynasties.

Confucius was born and spent most of his life in what is now Shandong province, where many of his descendants had lived.

The Kong family boasts the world's longest recorded history. The patrilineal family tree, now in its 83rd generation, has been recorded since the death of Confucius.

During the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), one of his descendants moved from Shandong to Hefei. The descendant had three sons in Hefei, with the most prominent one being the eldest, who was later called Da Kong, or "the eldest Kong".

His descendants later built the Hefei ancestral hall, which was found in disrepair during the late Qing Dynasty (1644-1911).

Kong family members in Hefei wrote to Kong Fanjin, who was born in the provincial capital. He had become a trusted, high-level official in the imperial court and a senior general guarding Gansu province. The members told their influential relative that the old hall needed to be repaired and renovated.

The general replied that it would be better to rebuild the structure into a larger one. He sent them a large amount of money, which was used to construct buildings with more than 60 rooms on a 2,500 square meter site.

Kong Fanjin had a brother, Kong Fanqin, who was also a general, in what is now the Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region in South China.

Kong Fanqin once killed a tiger that was threatening the lives of people in the area. People later found out that the beast was carrying four tiger cubs — which led to an imperial edict from the emperor conferring the title of "Five-Tiger General" on Kong Fanqin.

Proud family members back home carved the content of the imperial edict on a stone tablet, but instead of placing it in a prominent location, as commonly practiced, they embedded it in a wall beside their ancestral tablets.

"Nobody really knows why it was put there," said Kong Lingxin, 73, a local resident.

During the "cultural revolution" (1966-76), when the temple was used as a barn, grain filled the room and people forgot there was a monument there, "so it survived", he said.


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