For many foreigners who do not share buildings dedicated to one’s lineage, going to a Chinese family temple would be a dull experience. On this trip, we discovered a repository of family history that not only answered many questions, but we developed a quest for more knowledge of one’s origins.
In China, ancestral family temples provided the heart and soul of each community. They gave special significance to family members with a common last name. Family histories and genealogy were stored in these cultural institutions and offered missing information.
We visited the Chou, Lum and Fong Family Ancestral Temples in Guangdong and Zhongshan, where our parents’ native villages were located.
Chou Family Ancestral Temple
The Chou Family Temple, originally in Punyu outside of Guangzhou, was a spiffy display of the achievements of its clan members. It was well-endowed, orderly and refined. Judging by its size, educational content, and tidiness, there was plenty of support from both local and overseas sources.
Here are more slides of the temple gardens and architecture (click to the right to advance): A poster room showed the first Overseas Chinese who migrated to New Zealand among other illustrious clan members.
Lum Family Temple
The Lum Family Temple in Antang was simple, modest, and a bit neglected. There seemed to be little interest in reviving its religious function. Perhaps due to generations of scholars and civil examination administrators, there was less outward display of wealth.
See previous post for additional photos of the Lum Family temple.
We also collected big manuals of family history. The “juk po” contains the genealogy beyond 24 generations. Most of these histories recorded began with the earliest patriarch who settled in a locality.
Many Northern Chinese migrated south prior to, during, and after the Mongol Invasions of Genghis Khan. We discovered some awesome dates as early as 1017!!
Newly Renovated Fong Family Ancestral Temple
Unlike the solemn and serious nature of the Chou and Lum Ancestral visits, we had a completely unique experience visiting the The Fong Family Ancestral Temple. The Fong clan pulled out all the stops for a lively inauguration of its newly renovated complex..
We were invited to join a sit-down dinner banquet serving over 1200 guests. Acrobats, dancers and a pop singer provided home-grown entertainment in the large playground outside the temple. Activities throughout the day included a lion dance commemorating the inauguration and honoring the ancestors.
The traditional nine-course menu included duck, chicken, fish, prawns, and abalone in the shell. The string of roast pigs first served to the gods were later carved and served to we lowly mortals in attendance.
It was a raw and bawdy but authentic affair. We were able to witness history with the entire community, and gained a deeper understanding and appreciation of our family roots.
Visiting three ancestral temples simultaneously may seem like cultural overload. But by visiting these ancestral shrines in a row, I could fully appreciate the importance of these facilities that served past generations of Chinese and will serve future ones as well.
Note: I apologize if videos are not viewable on your device. Posting graphic material in WordPress from China has been a challenge! I will try updating them after I return to the U.S. next week. Check back then if you are interested.