Ancestral shrine

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Altar with ancestral tablets in King Law Ka Shuk, Hong Kong.
Eastern Han (25–220 AD) Chinese stone-carved que pillar gates of Dingfang, Zhong County, Chongqing that once belonged to a temple dedicated to the Warring States era general Ba Manzi
Altar with couplets and diaphragm in a Vietnamese clan ancestral house (Nhà thờ họ)

An ancestral shrine, hall or temple (Chinese: ; pinyin: táng; Pe̍h-ōe-jī: Sû-tông or Chinese: ; pinyin: Zōng; Pe̍h-ōe-jī: Chong-sû, Vietnamese: Nhà thờ họ; Chữ Hán: 家祠户), also called lineage temple, is a temple dedicated to deified ancestors and progenitors of surname lineages or families in the Chinese tradition. Ancestral temples are closely linked to Confucian philosophy and 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]

In mainland China, ancestral temples along with other temples have often been destroyed or forced to become "secularized" 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 clan members living overseas who are keen to support the revival and rebuilding of the shrines through donations.[1]


Ancestral shrine
Chinese name
Korean name
Japanese name

Chinese: ; pinyin: táng has its first character Ci Shrine in

Chinese: ; pinyin: Zōng has its first character derived from Jongmyo, and its second character is Ci Shrine

Ancestral shrine
Chinese name
Korean name
Japanese name

That phrasing can be seen as making the Jongmyo a more sacralized version, since Ci shrines are considered lower ranked than Miao shrines.



Notable ancestral temples in Taiwan include:

Hong Kong[edit]

Notable ancestral temples in Hong Kong include:

Southeast Asia[edit]

Notable ancestral temples in Chinese communities of Southeast Asia include:


Altar in the nhà thờ họ of the Trần family in Cát Sơn

Ancestral temple is called nhà thờ họ, nhà thờ tộc or từ đường in Vietnam. An ancestral death anniversary will be held yearly at nhà thờ họ and this anniversary is usually used as an occasion to renew the relationship between clan members.

In other religions and cultures[edit]

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[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f Edward L. Davis (Editor), Encyclopedia of Contemporary Chinese Culture, Routledge, 2004
  2. ^ a b c 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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