Over the weekend I took the bullet train from Beijing to Jinan, the capital of Shandong Province. The 500 km journey is a comfortable 3 hour trip. Jinan is a large modern city with some attractive tree-lined lakes and a magnificent central park – Baotuquan – with numerous mineral springs near its centre – indeed Jinan is known as the ‘city of springs’.
That evening I took a two hour bus journey to Qufu in Shandong Province to visit a famous temple dedicated to Confucius the following morning. First established in 478 BC it has been much renovated since presumably after it was attacked by Red Guards during the Cultural Revolution. The dimensions of the temple are vast – it is only exceeded in area as a historical site in China only by the Forbidden City in Beijing. Near the temple is as vast cemetery containing the graves of Confucius and his ancestors – 3600 tombstones in all. There is also a sprawling house – the Kong Mansion – that has been occupied by the ancestors of Confucius since 1038 AD. It is stirring stuff.
The most enjoyable part of my visit however occurred while wandering with a friend through the town towards the Confucius Temple the night I arrived there. As we neared the temple we heard the most beautiful, stringed instrument music in the street. Abstract and other-worldly it was exquisite in its subtle, complex tones. We knocked on the door of the building where the music came from and two performers invited us it and invited us to hear a performance. The instrument – which I have never heard before was the Guqin (or just Qin pronounced “chin”, “Gu” in Chinese means ‘ancient’). The instrument is a zither-like instrument about 1.5 metres long with 7 long strings stretching its full length. It has been played in China for over 2500 years and yes, was mastered by the great Confucius himself who both played and composed for this remarkable instrument. It is seen these days as an instrument for the intellect – subtle and profound.
A female performer gave us a superb performance in this centre. The sound from the instrument is very gentle and you really need to watch it being played to capture the full effect. The range of hand movements along the strings is extraordinary. The performer – a middle-aged woman – sang in a second piece with a young girl soprano voice that was soft enough and evocative enough to match the music perfectly. I wandered off into the night feeling wonderful.
There are some sample solo performances here. I managed to get a CD but even before I listen to it I expect that something real will be missing by the fact that it is not a live performance. (568)