Ancestral shrine

An ancestral shrine, hall or temple (Chinese: ; pinyin: táng or Chinese: ; pinyin: Zōng), also called lineage temple, is a Chinese temple dedicated to deified ancestors and progenitors of surname lineages or families in the Chinese traditional religion. Ancestral temples are closely linked to Confucian culture and the emphasis that it places on filial piety.

A common central feature of the ancestral temples are the ancestral tablets that embody the ancestral spirits.[1] The ancestral tablets are typically arranged by seniority of the ancestors.[1] Altars and other ritual objects such as incense burners are also common fixtures. Ancestors and gods can also be represented by statues.

The temples are used for collective rituals and festivals in honor of the ancestors[1] but also for other family- and community-related functions such as weddings and funerals.[1] Sometimes, they serve wider community functions such as meetings and local elections.

In traditional weddings, the ancestral temple serves a major symbolic function, completing the transfer of a woman to her husband's family.[2] During the wedding rites, the bride and groom worship at the groom's ancestral shrine, bowing as follows:[2]

  1. first bow - Heaven and Earth
  2. second bow - ancestors
  3. third bow - parents
  4. fourth bow - spouse

Three months after the marriage, the wife undertakes worship at the husband's ancestral shrine, in a rite known as miaojian (廟見).[2]

Ancestral temples have often been secularized to serve as village schools or granaries during the land reform of the 1950s and the Cultural Revolution. They have experienced a revival since the economic liberalization of the 1980s.[1] The revival of the ancestral temples has been particularly strong in southern China where lineage organization had stronger roots in the local culture and local communities are more likely to have members living overseas who can support rebuilding of the shrines through donations.[1]

Hong Kong

Notable ancestral temples in Hong Kong include:

In other religions and cultures

Ancestral shrines or similar concepts are also common in other religions and cultures. Especially other East and Southeast Asian but also traditional African religions have ancestral shrines and or tombs. Ancestor worship is an important and common element in native African religions and is still common and practiced by followers of folk religions but also Christian and Muslim Africans.[3]

See also


  1. Edward L. Davis (Editor), Encyclopedia of Contemporary Chinese Culture, Routledge, 2004
  2. Li Wenxian (2011). "Worshipping in the Ancestral Hall". Encyclopedia of Taiwan. Taipei: Council for Cultural Affairs. Archived from the original on May 1, 2014. Retrieved September 12, 2012.
  3. Kimmerle, Heinz (April 11, 2006). "The world of spirits and the respect for nature: towards a new appreciation of animism". The Journal for Transdisciplinary Research in Southern Africa. 2 (2): 15. doi:10.4102/td.v2i2.277. ISSN 2415-2005.
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