Ancestor worship may well be the oldest, unorganized religion in China. For instance, take Tomb Sweeping Day. The practice that honors family ancestors started during the Zhou Dynasty (1046-256 BC) and has been around for more than 2,500 years.
Tomb Sweeping Day is a one-day Chinese holiday where respect is shown to the ancestors. This holiday is celebrated in early April, and families have a reunion and visit their ancestors’ grave sites.
Before this tradition, the first emperor Qin Shi Huangdi had not unified China yet, and the country 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.
Respect for ancestors is also an important part of Confucianism and there is still an ancestor hall for Confucius (551-479 BC) 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 regional super power in Asia for more than two thousand years and had a big influence over other cultures in the region.
Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine [3rd edition]. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.
His third book is Crazy is Normal, a classroom exposé, a memoir. “Lofthouse presents us with grungy classrooms, kids who don’t want to be in school, and the consequences of growing up in a hardscrabble world. While some parents support his efforts, many sabotage them—and isolated administrators make the work of Lofthouse and his peers even more difficult.” – Bruce Reeves.
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