Anyone who knows the first thing about China knows that Confucius has had a profound impact on the history and philosophy of her people. Indeed, the teachings and moral codes borne from Confucianism are said to have influenced modern East Asian societies even today. For those interested in learning more about the father of this omnipresent philosophy, or even just for couples or single travellers looking for a peaceful and unique weekend getaway, Nishan Akemdemia and the associated Nishan Sacred Land are a perfect place to start. A mere three-hour fast train south from Beijing brings you to Qufu, Shandong Province, the birthplace of the Great Sage and the Nishan Sacred Land, an immersive cultural lifestyle development.
More than just a hotel
Situated alongside Xiaoya Lake, surrounded by rolling mountains stretching into the distance, Nishan Akemdemia looks at first glance to be an upscale addition to a traditional Chinese village. But as you drive further into the lush resort grounds, it becomes clear that what first seems like a little village is actually an incredible network of guestrooms surrounded by lush vegetation peppered with streams and waterfalls.
The beautiful tranquillity of the water features and manicured gardens outside carry through to the reception and main hotel buildings, where traditional Chinese designs flow alongside contemporary yet rustic furnishings. The lobby features continuous bookshelves containing what we assume are nods to the teachings of Confucius. And the boutique hotel rooms themselves? Well, they’re stunning.
Entering through two dragon-handled doors, you arrive in an outside courtyard filled with bamboo and stone paths. Glass doors open onto dark hardwood floors, soft furnishings, and sleek natural wood furniture. The rooms provide a luxurious retreat from the world, with all the amenities you need to remain comfortable and pampered juxtaposed with the simple yet elegant remnants of a Confucian era.
The charm of the hotel and its environment transports us to a time where contemplation, study, and reflections on morality are paramount. It’s not just the lush greenery or the lux rooms that makes this place special. It’s the story behind it all that goes back over 2,000 years.
Getting to know Confucius
Standing over the central lake and gazing down upon the scenic area of Nishan Sacred Land, the 72-metre high statue of Confucius – the tallest and heaviest statue of the Daoist deity in the world – makes it clear what this scared valley is all about.
As we enter the Nishan Sacred Land complex, the sheer size and grandiosity captures all attention. Covering an area of 60,000 square metres, the main building – the Hall of Great Learning – stands stark against the mountain backdrop with the impressive architecture and elaborate indoor furnishings paying just tribute to the great Confucius.
We’re suitably awed, especially as we walk through the echoing hall of sages that feature the 72 wise men who reached enlightenment by mastering the core Confucian teachings, the Six Arts. That is, until we sit down to watch our first performance that gets right to the heart of the matter at hand. Through a rather epic production of sound, light, dance and song, we’re told the story of Confucius, from his birth to his eventual immortalisation as a profound teacher. Although the lyrics and projected words were all in Chinese, the performance’s humorous additions and breathtaking acrobatics make it accessible for everyone in the audience. Sitting in the front row, we were close enough to see the fine detail put into the sets and costumes, not to mention the pretty remarkable floor mechanics that at one point had the dancers running up and down moving waves.
The next, and logical, stop on our tour of Confucius history is a visit to the temple on Mount Ni .Home to the purported birthplace of Confucius, and the very cave he was said to have been left in, this temple complex hosts important historical and cultural sites. Renovated numerous times throughout the Ming and Qing dynasties, the complex now features memorials to the great thinker and his family. Following a path to a cliff below the temple, we come to the Confucius Cave. Legend has it that Confucius was left in the cave when he was born because he looked different from other babies. However, a tiger and eagle took him in, looking after him until his mother returned to claim him back. Alternatively, Confucius’ parents were said to have prayed at Mount Ni shortly before his mother gave birth to him. Whatever the story behind the birth, Mount Ni is a scared and inspiring part of the Confucian legend.
After a delicious meal of regional and national favourites, we return to the scenic area as night falls. The crowds give us an idea of how popular the entertainment to come is, but we’re still able to walk about freely and find a spot at the front of the main area for our next show. Standing again under the gaze of the statue, we watch an impressive water show that features moving images in the sky – thanks to a fleet of drones – alongside fireworks and distant dancers.
A fully immersive experience
The legend of Confucius continues throughout our time in Nishan, especially during our second day when we return to the Nishan complex to experience traditional culture in a much more hands-on way.
After a tour through the complexes’ grand rooms, we robe up in traditional Hanfu garb – Han-style clothes. The ladies wear long red silk skirts, with black robes trimmed with delicate embroidery over the top. The men wear floor-length black robes with the same embroidered edges. As is tradition, all of our robes have the immense sleeves that nearly touch the ground.
Now that we’re properly dressed, we’re treated to a traditional Confucian-style lunch, complete with a six-piece band and ceremonial host. We follow our host through a meal of eight different dishes, including fish, beef, baozi, vegetables, and fruit. As we eat, the performances begin, first with a group of young women dancing perfectly in time to the beat of the pounding drum. Another lady sings to us, and before we finish our meal, we’re treated to a game of touhou, where participants show off their hand-eye coordination throwing wooden arrows into a thin vase.
Sitting down, or rather, kneeling on cushions before small wooden tables, we next practice the art of calligraphy, in a room filled with bookcases and flickering candles that give it an air of studious purpose. Although we don’t understand all the characters, we fall quickly into the rhythm of the brushstrokes, our heads down in concentration. As we near the end of our practice, the lights dim and the music begins.
The already spectacular Benevolence Hall is instantly transformed by a light show accompanied by musicians. We’re transported to another world yet again as the special effects create a storm above us, turning the watery skies to a sea of flickering lights and sound. The whole experience, from the calm study of writing to the epic sound and visual show, left us fully entranced.
As we return to the main complex rooms, we are not only witness to, but participate in, a ritual ceremony involving the opening of ceremonial doors, a metaphorical entrance to great learning. As gongs sound out our steps, we ascend the staircase, bowing at each platform and eventually crossing into the hall of disciples. Yet again, the experience transports us back to another time. Our final experience comes in the form of art, where we create red stone rubbings and paint delicate fans.
Nishan Sacred Land and Nishan Akademia represent an immersive, inspiring escape perfect for a weekend away for couples, friends, or solo travellers. It’s everything you could want: a relaxing oasis, a jaunt back into historical times, and an impeccable experience of traditional Chinese culture alongside a reflection of an ancient philosophy that still impacts the world today.
Whether you’re interested in learning more about Confucianism or want an idyllic getaway, Nishan has you covered.