Sons of the Yellow Emperor

Updated: 2011-07-31 08:31

By Pauline D Loh (China Daily)

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 Sons of the Yellow Emperor

Shou Qiu is a quiet monument to the Yellow Emperor. Here in the natural setting of willows and lake, even the crickets chirp quietly in homage. Photos by Pauline D Loh / China Daily

In Qufu, there is a quiet hillock about 4 kilometers from the city center that rests peacefully among fields planted with cotton and wheat. This is where China's history begins. Pauline D Loh takes a walk back through time.

The city was packed with weekend visitors. At the Confucius Temple and the Kong Family Mansion next door, tourists swarmed in huge, never-ending processions. Everywhere, the din from guides speaking through microphones and the cacophony of chatter was earsplitting.

I can imagine Confucius holding his head in pain.

 Sons of the Yellow Emperor

Ancient cypresses guard the passageway that leads to Shao Hao's tomb. These are ancient trees that have been keeping vigil for hundreds of years.

Qufu on a weekend after the opening of the high-speed rail between Beijing and Shanghai is experiencing a 20-percent increase in visitor arrivals.

All the budget hotels are fully booked, and we ended up staying in the best suite of a three-star hotel in town - the only accommodation available if we wanted to stay within the city limits. Its three-star ranking, however, is purely arbitrary.

Fortunately for this UNESCO-listed World Cultural Heritage city, the scenario is changing. Zhang Xinjie, the vice-director of the Qufu City Council publicity department, tells us that international hotel chains had moved in as soon as Qufu was confirmed as one of the stops along the high-speed rail route.

The Shangri-La group is already building a hotel, while another five-star establishment from Hong Kong is at drawing board stage. Also being planned is a huge 5,000-room budget hostel to cater for group tours.

The city has plenty to attract visitors. Apart from the three main attractions - the Confucius Mausoleum, his Temple and the Kong Family Mansion, Qufu is home to a host of historical celebrities, including China's first deified king, Huang Di, the Yellow Emperor, and his son Shao Hao.

Shen Nong, the legendary farmer's god and the first herbologist, reputedly started his agricultural experiments here.

Guan Yu, the famous military strategist of the Three Kingdoms, was believed to be buried here as well - or at least his head was given the full burial honors by Cao Cao, his sworn enemy and nemesis.

For the history buff, going to Qufu is like taking a walk through time back to the beginning of China's recorded history - we're talking about 5,000 years.

The place where it all starts is Shou Qiu in Qufu, where they say the Yellow Emperor was born. The name translates to Longevity Hill, but it is really more a little mound than a real hill although what it lacks in stature, it more than makes up for in significance.

 Sons of the Yellow Emperor

The tallest stele in all of China commemorates its first king, the Yellow Emperor.

Beside the worn wooden gates of the entrance, a motley crew perched on the threshold playing cards to while away the afternoon. We were the only visitors that day, and it was almost closing time, but we were cheerily waved through and told not to hurry. Here, time has slowed to a more accommodating pace.

The path led around a spirit screen, a simple white wall devoid of dragons and other mystical icons. Simple dignity is enough to adorn a site that marks the genesis of recorded history in China.

Two huge steles rose on either side of the wild garden, separated by a little lake filled with bulrushes and patches of water lily. Waterfowls skittered for shelter at our approach.

We headed for the turtle-borne stele on the right, the eastern monument named the Stele of the Sorrow of 10,000 - China's tallest unmarked stone monument, which supposedly took that number of men to move it.

The 52-meter stele itself is stapled together in a melancholic patchwork that tells of a more recent period in history during the 1960s when it was smashed and left broken. In 1992, it took workmen years to piece it back together but some parts of the turtle base were never recovered. They had to be recreated, and you can tell by the claws which are the additions, and which the originals.

According to our guide, Kong Peng, a 72nd-generation descendant of the Great Sage, the older claws were sharper and showed more strength. The newer replicas are flabby and lack character.

After having admired the monuments that paid tribute to the father, we moved on to the mausoleum that commemorates the son, Shao Hao, son of Huang Di.

The tomb is accessed by an arched gateway that opens to an impressive passage known as the shendao, or deity walk. Ancient cypress sentinels guard the walkway, and most of the trees are hundreds if not thousands of years old. They are gnarled and weathered, with some hollowed out by age and lightning strikes. But the ancient branches sprout new growth with a resilience as unbeatable as those shown by the sons of the Yellow Emperor.

Shaohao Ling is often called the pyramid of China, although the top is leveled off for a red-roofed spirit house. The tomb mount was covered in stone slabs about 1,000 years ago during the Song Dynasty (960-1279). The sides are not the straight slopes of the Egyptian pyramids, but are slightly curved to show the original contours of the hill.

The quiet monument is surrounded by a forest of trees, among which fleet pairs of gray magpies, turtledoves, bulbuls and sparrows. It is a fitting setting, since Shao Hao is the protector of avian creatures, and his beloved birds have been keeping vigil by his side, paying tribute in song and plumage.

As we turn homeward, the weight of history suddenly lifts as we walk into a patch of sunshine as bright and glowing as the robes of the Yellow Emperor. And we, his sons and his daughters, take one more look at his twin monuments and indulge in a moment of pure joyous pride.

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(China Daily 07/31/2011 page16)