Tai'An & Qufu, China

The Labor Holiday in China this year was the first week in May, and generally falls after Chinese students' midterms and during American students' finals. As teaching assistants at a university in China, we got the whole week off! A group of friends/coworkers and I decided to check out some of the more spiritual/historical parts of China in nearby Shandong province. The entire trip, we saw maybe 5 other foreigners. Not to say these aren't major tourist destinations. They are. Just more so for Chinese people. I consider this a travel win. 



Fast Facts courtesy of Wikipedia

  • A scene of Mount Tai is featured on the back of the 5 yuan bill.

  • Mount Tai is known as the eastern mountain of the Five Great Mountains of China. It is associated with sunrise, birth, and renewal and is often regarded as the foremost of the five.
  • Mount Tai has been a place of worship for at least 3,000 years and served as one of the most important ceremonial centers of China during large portions of this period.
  • The name Tai'An of the neighboring city is attributed to the saying, "If Mount Tai is stable, so is the entire country" (both characters of Tai'An, "泰" and "安" have the independent meaning of "peace").
  • A total of 72 emperors were recorded as visiting the mountain. 

After one flight from Dalian to Jining, a bus from the airport to the bus station (10 yuan = $1.53), a bus to Tai'An city limits (39 yuan = $5.97) , a city bus (2 yuan =  $0.31) to our hostel  , and 3 hours of sleep we found ourselves at the base of China's most holy mountain buying a ticket (125 yuan = $19.13)  around 11:00 pm. Why? Because our plan was to hike up in the night and watch the sunrise from the top. 

Pretty cool, right? No big deal, right?

Uh. I severely underestimated what roughly 10,000 stairs would feel like. Or maybe I overestimated my abilities. Either way, this was by far the most physically challenging thing I've ever done. In the dark, surrounded by strangers passing me left and right, temperatures dropping as my heart rate was rising. It took me about 4-5 hours to make it to the top. And I was physically, mentally, UTTERLY exhausted. 

But still, pretty cool. 

Because even though I felt like dying and the sunset hid in the mists, I made roughly the same journey as thousands of Chinese people do every year. The same journey as emperors had in the past. The kind of journey that my asthmatic younger self never thought I'd be capable of finishing. And because of these things, while Tai Shan might not be my favorite summit experience, it will likely remain one of my most meaningful. 

We took the railway down, but unfortunately we accidentally took the one on the opposite side of the mountain from our ascent and hostel. We walked a verryyyy long way before we gave up and flagged down a tour bus to take us back. We were just too tired by that point. 

Qufu (pronounced choo-foo)


Fast Facts courtesy of Wikipedia

  • Qufu has an urban population of about 60,000.
  • Qufu is best known as the hometown of Confucius, who is traditionally believed to have been born at nearby Mount Ni.
  • Qufu is a traditional centre of Confucianism, being the area where Confucius was born. The city is home to the holiest Temple of Confucius, to the Mausoleum of Confucius, and to the Mansion of the Kong Family. 

After we recovered from Mount Tai, we got a bus (23 yuan = $3.52) to Qufu, just a bit south. Considering I've lived in "medium" sized cities in China with populations of 6-8 million, Qufu was definitely giving some small town vibes. In one day we walked essentially from one end of town to the other. We just grabbed a tourist map and walked around to the things on it. The temple and mansion are in the center of the city, very close to our hostel. The cemetery/mausoleum is maybe a 10-15 minute walk farther. 

My favorite parts of our Qufu experience were the cemetery and a park/garden area near the large theater in the middle of town. They were both uncrowded, beautiful, and peaceful.

A little bit of a stutter, but still a nice pano of the garden.

A path through the cemetery. I grew up next to a cemetery and I've always loved them. 

A path through the cemetery. I grew up next to a cemetery and I've always loved them. 

We of course saw the temple and mansion too. All three major sights were included in one ticket (150 yuan = $22.95). Here are the rest of the pictures from that, and our initial wander around Qufu. 

To properly respect the place, I wish I would of had a bit more knowledge of the life and teachings of Confucius. Here's what little I did know:

  • Confucius was a scholar and teacher (among other things) that lived around 500 BC.
  • The Analects are the most famous published group of his sayings/teachings.
  • Confucianism is concerned with following his teachings (not making him a God, many of China's dominant religions were atheistic). 
  • Confucianism can and often is practiced in conjunction with other religious/moral schools of thought like Daoism or Buddhism. 

If you ever find yourself in Qufu, I'd recommend knowing more than this. I wish I had, although I thouroughly enjoyed myself anyway.