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  • Writer's picturePaul Coleman

Green Burials: A Visit to the Forested Graveyard of Confucius

Confucius was undoubtedly a Giant of a Man
Confucius was undoubtedly a Giant of a Man

Qufu, Shandong Province, China. July 2008

One of the highlights of our 'Walk through China' was a visit to the grave of Confucius, the Chinese philosopher who died 2500 years ago.

Konomi amidst the natural splendour of the Kong (Confucius) Family Graveyard
Konomi amidst the green splendour of the Kong (Confucius) Family Graveyard

I was half expecting yet another great mausoleum, or a temple selling souvenirs, but instead we found a simple mound of grass surrounded by the forest of trees that has been his families graveyard since he died.

In China the planting of trees symbolizes the continuation of the dead.

Twenty two thousand of the forty seven thousand trees in this beautiful forest cemetery have been planted by family members and disciples to mark the graves of their loved ones. Spread over 78 generations they now number ten thousand and more.

The Tomb of Confucius
The Tomb of Confucius

Sadly the peace and tranquility of the natural surroundings was shattered when we first arrived, by guides with megaphones and crowds of tourists doing everything but respecting the dead. Fortunately we had arrived late in the day, so we waited until the last tourist had gone and peace and quite had settled over the forest before we began to explore the gravestones and the slowly eroding mounds of earth that add a sense of mystery to the place and shed a positive light on the simplistic wonder of a green burial.

The Forested Wonder of the Kong Family Graveyard
The Forested Wonder of the Kong Family Graveyard

Nowadays the funeral business is an industry. In Japan people spend thousands of dollars just to get a Buddhist monk to come and say a few chants. In Europe and the US you almost have to take a new mortgage out to get buried. Coffins are fabulously expensive as are the limousines. It's got to the stage where it might be cheaper to stay alive.

I like the idea of a green funeral. It's a return to a saner past, death without the middle man. It's catching on in Britain, where I've read of people being buried in cardboard coffins, with the grave being dug by relatives and coffin transported in a mourners station wagon or van. Trees are also planted and the burial sites chosen can become sanctuaries for wildlife.

My mum has often said “What a waste of money, paying for an undertaker. When I go, just dump me in the rubbish bin.” I'm not advocating dumping dear old mum, dad or granny in the bin, but it might a good idea to do away with the undertaker.

A few of the 10,000 graves surrounding the Tomb of Confucius
A few of the 10,000 graves surrounding the Tomb of Confucius

The first tree I ever planted was when my father died. He was cremated and with the family gathered around I dug a hole in the garden, buried the ashes and planted a Japanese Cherry tree on top. Little did I realised that I would end up marrying a Japanese woman and planting trees all over the world!

Video: A Chinese Funeral Procession and our visit to the Tomb and Cemetery of Confucius

I thought I'd have a look on the internet to find some advice on Green Funerals and I came across The Natural Death Handbook. This is a very serious subject, and there are some very touching stories, but I must admit when I read some of this stuff I laughed my head off. However, I screwed it back on and will be walking tomorrow.

The Natural Death Handbook

China has formed a great and profound culture of death. To find out more visit::

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