World’s largest Confucius statue gets final polish as east China hometown prepares to honour ancient sage

Massive brass effigy in Qufu, Shandong province, which stands 236 feet tall, to be formally inaugurated for Mid-Autumn Festival

PUBLISHED : Friday, 21 September, 2018, 4:54pm
UPDATED : Friday, 21 September, 2018, 5:21pm

The world’s tallest statue of Confucius will be officially inaugurated on Monday in the east China birthplace of the ancient philosopher and teacher.

Made of brass and reinforced with steel, the giant effigy stands 72 metres (236 feet) tall on a hillside overlooking the city of Qufu, Shandong province.

The main body is supported by eight internal pillars and its base covers an area of 7,800 square meters (84,000 square feet).

“The height of the statue coincides with the number of sages among Confucius’ disciples,” Hu Yantao, who headed the construction project was quoted as saying by Xinhua.

Although the statue was first unveiled to the public in 2016, Hu said his team had continued to carry out refinements.

“The [polished brass] outer appearance has been perfected over the past 18 months,” he said.

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The formal unveiling on Monday coincides with China’s annual Mid-Autumn Festival.

Despite its great size, the Nishan Confucius ranks only 16th on a list of the world’s largest statues, which is headed by the Spring Temple Buddha in central China’s Henan province, which stands 128 metres.

Who was Confucius?

The great sage is thought to have been born in 551BC into a lesser noble class. In his lifetime, he gained a reputation as an adviser to leaders and teacher to disciples.

Coming of age during a time when the strict social structure of the unified Zhou dynasty (c1046-256BC) had been upended, Confucius conceived of a theory of ethical and moral behaviour that would engender social harmony in an uncertain world. He believed that only through adhering to ritual propriety could people be aligned with a heavenly moral order. But he was much more concerned with what that propriety meant for daily life than he was with the abstract or heavenly.

On this point, he was once recorded as asking: “We don't know yet how to serve men, how can we know about serving spirits?”

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Confucian influence

The thinker has been influencing Chinese culture since the 5th century BC, when his moral teachings sparked a philosophical tradition of ethics that would go on to play a defining role in Korean, Japanese and Vietnamese philosophical traditions.

In more recent times, his name has crossed into popular usage as a purveyor of adages and, more recently, as the namesake of the controversial Confucius Institutes, set up around the world to fund the study of Chinese language and culture.

What is Confucian philosophy?

Confucian thought revolves around following good taste in aesthetics and manners, and a strict observance to the hierarchy of social relationships.

The scholar believed that acting ethically in situations relating both to the family and state would create social harmony, and that it was the job of rulers to emulate and spread ethical behaviour, just as it was children’s duty to venerate their parents and continue their traditions, codifying the filial piety that continues to define familial relations across Asia.

His teachings are preserved in Analects, a book that takes the form of structured into conversations between Confucius and his followers.

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His place in Chinese history

Confucius’ thoughts have had a significant effect on governance throughout Chinese history, not least because his texts have featured prominently throughout the centuries in the content of China’s imperial service examinations, a system which allowed for meritocratic advancement in government for young men.

Subscription to Confucian thought has ebbed and flowed throughout Chinese history, often taking hold during times of dynastic stability, where philosophies of ethical order were more likely to be embraced. Yet China’s major rulers were largely in the Confucian mould up until 1911 when imperial government ended.

While Confucius was rejected during the Cultural Revolution, his teachings and cultural imminence have been embraced again in China as an integral facet of its national identity and heritage.

Promoting Confucian thought

As well as the massive statue, Confucius’ hometown of Qufu is slated to host China’s first teachers’ museum, plans for the construction of which were released earlier this year, according to local media reports.

Confucius is believed to be the founder of China’s first public schools.

Smaller statues of the sage can be found around the world, including several in the United States, Australia and one that was unveiled in Ukranian capital Kiev last month.