Getting chopped in Confucius' neighborhood
Updated: 2011-08-01 13:50
By Pauline D Loh (China Daily)
A lasting memory to take away from Qufu is a seal made from Nishan rock, carved by a master craftsman who is a descendant of Confucius. Pauline D Loh / China Daily
We are now friends of the family. Our guide was his great-grandson of the 72nd generation. The master craftsman who carved our Nishan rock seals is also a 72nd generation great-grandson, although of a much older vintage.
In Qufu, nearly 60 percent of the population has the surname Kong, after their Great Sage Ancestor, Confucius.
His legacy lives on in the tourist attractions, a profusion of restaurants all offering Confucian Family cuisine, a huge liquor factory bearing the Confucius family name and countless descendants distributed in Shandong province, throughout China and another 118 countries throughout the world.
Nowhere is that more apparent than in the sprawling Confucius family mausoleum, where generations of Kongs are buried. Even now, the various branches of the family tree still command their individual burial plots and simple headstones among tombs eroded by age; exposure to the elements shows the difference between old and new.
A walk through the cemetery can tell you a lot about the family, and it is an almost voyeuristic trip that made me slightly uncomfortable.
It was the discovery of a seal-making shop just outside the mausoleum entrance that made my day, although the rather bloodthirsty mosquitoes in the cemetery also made their marks.
Inside the rather dark interior, a small treasure trove of little rocks and chops wait to be carved into personal seals, the mark of the Chinese scholar. We admired a selection of ochre-tinged brown Nishan rock seals, all with darker markings that suggested shapes of pine trees and mountains.
Nishan (Mud Mountain) is the place where they say Confucius was born. As folklore has it, his mother went into labor while still on the way home and gave birth in a cave by the hillside. The place has become a tourist attraction, of course, and the site of a Confucian studies center.
After you have chosen your piece of Nishan rock, you can chose the script with which to carve your name. If in doubt, always consult the experts.
Our seal-master was Kong Xian Hai, an award-winning craftsman with a calligraphic style that would do his ancestor proud. He chose a running script for my name, and said it suited the rather archaic characters.
In the end, we went home with seals for the whole family, fitting souvenirs from the home of the Sage. If you are an expatriate, you can also ask them to help translate your name, and here at least, you can be assured of a classical interpretation.
(China Daily 07/31/2011 page16)
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