QUFU, Shandong Province -- More than 130 descendants of Confucius from across the world gathered in his hometown on Sunday to pay tribute to the sage ahead of the traditional tomb sweeping day.
The descendants, all of whom bear Confucius' family name "Kong", followed their master of ceremony to kowtow and serve offerings and incense sticks to his tomb in Qufu, eastern Shandong Province.
James Kong, 14, stood out in the crowd. The 79th-generation descendant of Confucius, born and brought up in Britain, does not speak Chinese but has learned the English renditions of the "Analects of Confucius".
"Confucius said 'it is always a pleasure to greet a friend from afar'", he said as he quoted his ancestor. "I'm proud to be his descendant."
His mother Jenny Kong, a blonde British woman who married a descendant of Confucius, has her own interpretation of Confucian thought. The world would be a peaceful and harmonious place if everyone behaves in line with the Confucian ideas, she said.
"To honor Confucius is not just a formality," said master of ceremony Kong Zhong, also a descendant of the sage. "His thought, like a code of conduct, still applies today, to Chinese and Westerners alike."
Confucius, born in 551 BC, was the founder of Confucianism, which advocates the building of a harmonious society through an individual's self-refinement in manners and taste.
Confucianism dominated Chinese society for centuries, and spread to Europe in the late 16th century.
Scholars and believers around the world commemorate Confucius' birth in Qufu every year to carry forward the Confucian spirit of benevolence and honor.
Confucius is believed to have more than 3 million descendants in the Chinese mainland, Hong Kong, Taiwan, the Republic of Korea, the United States, Malaysia and Singapore.
A newly updated family tree of Confucius has recorded more than 2 million members in 83 generations of the family, including more than 40,000 living overseas.
The Tomb-Sweeping Day, or Qingming Festival, is an occasion to remember the dead. This year it falls on Friday, April 4, and for the first time in China it will be marked by a public holiday.