The story of Kong Demao and her family, 77th-generation descendants of Confucius (Kong Fuzi), parallels that of Puyi,...



The story of Kong Demao and her family, 77th-generation descendants of Confucius (Kong Fuzi), parallels that of Puyi, China's ""Last Emperor."" While weak and sketchy in setting the historical perspective and outlining the upheavals that unseated the Chinese aristocracy, Kong and her daughter Ke Lan do provide personal insight into the rituals, philosophy, and mythology of a culture that has long fascinated Westerners. The residents of the vast Kong Mansion estates in Qufu, the ""First Family Under Heaven,"" remained relatively untouched by the rest of the world for 2,500 years. The sage's family was protected and supported by dynasty after dynasty, and their wealth, power, and prestige remained undiminished even after the founding of the republic in 1912. Like Puyi, Kong's younger brother, Decheng, was a mere child when he assumed the mantle of responsibility as Yansheng Duke and State Master of Sacrifices. Their mother, Second Concubine Wang, was allegedly murdered by Madame Tao, the late duke's childless widow. Kong refers to her childhood and life in the mansion as ""cold and cheerless,"" but also describes--wonderfully, at times--the ostentatious life-style of a ""hereditary aristocratic family in an environment of ease and privilege."" The family and its holdings, having barely survived the Depression and the anti-Confucian movement of the late 1920's, went generally unmolested during the Japanese occupation. Decheng had fled following the 1937 invasion, moving his immediate family to Chongquin, seat of Chiang Kai-shek's nationalist government. (He eventually went to Taiwan, where he still resides.) The estates and mansion did not fare as well under communist rule, and suffered damage during the Cultural Revolution of the 1960's and '70's; Kong includes a moving account of her recent visit to the mansion, her first in more than 40 years. Kong does best when describing traditional food and clothing, rites and ceremonies, birthday and wedding celebrations--intriguing details all, if insufficient in historical context to satisfy the many.

Pub Date: July 15, 1990


Page Count: -

Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton--dist. by Trafalgar Square/David & Charles

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1990