Ancestor worship may well be the oldest, unorganized religion in China. Take Tomb Sweeping Day for example. The practice that honors family ancestors started during the Zhou Dynasty and has been around for more than 2,500 years.
The first emperor Qin Shi Huangdi had not unified China yet. China was divided into several nation states governed by hereditary rulers and worshiping ancestors was important in maintaining a link with the past.
Today, many Chinese homes and businesses have a shrine set up to honor the ancestors. This shrine may have the name of the ancestor carved into wood or rock or there is a photo. Food is often left on the table for the ancestors.
Ancestor respect is also an important part of Confucianism and there is still an ancestor hall for Confucius in Chufu that is maintained by a direct descendant. Next time you are in a Chinese or Southeast Asian restaurant, look around and see if you can spot a shrine to the ancestors.
Confucianism and ancestor worship is not exclusive to China. After all, China was a super power in Asia for more than two thousand years and had a large influence over other cultures in the region.
Learn more about Confucius from this five-part series about the sage’s life.
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