ancestral halls/lineage temples

ancestral halls/lineage temples
Ancestral halls are often the largest and most elaborate buildings in a Chinese village. With the initiation of economic liberalization in the early 1980s, ancestral halls began reclaiming their prerevolutionary significance as community centres, ritual sites and focal points of lineage authority. Although most ancestral halls were either destroyed or secularized to function as village schools or granaries during the land reform of the 1950s and the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s, norms and networks of lineage unity have remained resilient. In most reconstruction projects the majority of households make voluntary donations. The rebuilding of community ancestral halls is especially prevalent in southeastern China, where lineage organizations were historically more developed and where more communities enjoy donations from relations overseas.
The revival of lineage activities and ancestral halls has occurred despite the opposition of local officials in some areas and with their implicit or active support and participation in others. In the more liberalized areas, the committees formed to oversee ancestral hall reconstruction projects often evolve into permanent lineage councils that organize religious, social and philanthropic activities, though none preside over collective land as in the past. The local governments in these areas reason that such non-official (minjian (popular space)) social institutions help finance public services such as road building and village education as well as promote social stability by keeping the behaviour of its members within prescribed bounds. In other areas, lineages may promote norms of unity through organized activities and rituals but lack a formal association.
Lineage halls serve as sites for collective rituals and festivals in which people make obeisance to their ancestors with offerings of food and other material items. Weddings, betrothals, funerals, lineage feasts and meetings of lineage elders may also take place at lineage halls, which are now also used as polling booths for village elections (see democracy and elections) and recreational centres for children and the elderly.
Lineage halls vary immensely in their level of grandeur, necessarily depending on the wealth and ritual needs of lineage members. But they all have certain elements in common, such as furniture and ritual objects and their placement. Smaller halls consist of a main room flanked by two smaller rooms. Larger lineage halls are recessed more deeply behind one or more rectangular courtyards that may also be lined with side halls. Inside the lineage hall, altars take the form of either a shelf accessible by a short ladder or a high narrow table placed against the back wall and facing the entryway. Ancestral tablets embodying the ancestral spirits are organized by seniority, and ritual items such as incense censers, divination blocks, statues and souvenirs from visits to related-lineage halls typically clutter one or more square tables placed in front of the altar and various rectangular tables to the sides. Brightly painted lineage halls may have ornate carvings, paintings and hangings which adorn the pillars and walls. As community centres, contemporary lineage halls may also display group photographs of lineage members at festivals or on sightseeing trips, awards and banners won by village sports teams or performance groups, and government plaques bestowed on the village for model behaviour.
Faure, David (1986). The Structure of Chinese Rural Society. Hong Kong: Oxford University Press.
Knapp, Ronald G. (1989). Chinese Vernacular Architecture: House Form and Culture. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press.
——(1999). China’s Living Houses: Folk Beliefs, Symbols, and Household Ornamentation. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press.
Tsai, Lily (2002). ‘Cadres, Temple and Lineage Organizations, and Governance in Rural China’. The China Journal 48:1–33.

Encyclopedia of contemporary Chinese culture. . 2011.

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