The status of the Yansheng Duke – the title given to Confucius’s direct male descendant – rose throughout imperial history as emperors granted him increasing privileges and hereditary titles; under the Qing dynasty, he was uniquely permitted to ride a horse inside the Forbidden City and walk along the Imperial Way inside the palace. Emperors presented the duke with large areas of sacrificial fields (so called because the income from the fields was used to pay for sacrificial ceremonies), as well as exempting him from taxes.

The Kongs remained a close-knit family, practising a severe interpretation of Confucian ethics – any young family member who offended an elder was fined two taels (about 70g) of silver and battered twenty times with a bamboo club. A female family member was expected to obey her father, her husband and her son. One elderly Kong general, after defeat on the battlefield, cut his throat for the sake of his dignity. When the news reached the mansion, his son hanged himself as an expression of filial piety; after discovering the body, his wife hanged herself out of female virtue. On hearing this, the emperor bestowed the family with a board, inscribed “A family of faithfulness and filiality”.

The Kong family enjoyed the good life right up until the beginning of the twentieth century. Decline set in rapidly with the downfall of imperial rule, and in 1940, the last of the line, Kong Decheng, fled to Taiwan during the Japanese invasion, breaking the tradition of millennia. His sister, Kong Demao, penned In the House of Confucius, a fascinating account of life lived inside this strange family chained to the past. Half of Qufu now claims descent from the Kongs, and it’s by far the most common family name in the city.

Travel offers; book through Rough Guides

China features

The latest articles, galleries, quizzes and videos.

The roof of the world: a first-timer's guide to Tibet

The roof of the world: a first-timer's guide to Tibet

The ‘roof of the world’ has exerted a magnetic pull over travellers and adventurers for centuries. This vast, high altitude desert has spawned myths and leg…

10 Nov 2016 • Stuart Butler insert_drive_file Article
Video: 10 Taiwanese street foods you need to try

Video: 10 Taiwanese street foods you need to try

Street food in Taiwan has a charm that restaurants just can't match. There's a distinct pleasure to be found in wandering through the labyrinthine stalls glo…

24 Oct 2016 • Colt St. George videocam Video
Beyond the Jade Dragon mountain: stunning pictures of Yunnan, China

Beyond the Jade Dragon mountain: stunning pictures of Yunnan, China

After a few weeks exploring the region, Rough Guides travel writer and photographer David Abram shares some of his favourite images of Yunnan Province, China. …

18 Oct 2016 • David Abram insert_drive_file Article
View more featureschevron_right

Join over 60,000 subscribers and get travel tips, competitions and more every month

Join over 60,000 subscribers and get travel tips, competitions and more every month