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Ancestral Tablet

Chinese ancestral tablet, c. 1900, rosewood, gift of Becky Till, 1985.16.18.

Ancestor worship was and is a familiar practice in Chinese folk religion. One of the most common ways to venerate the dead is through the use of ancestral tablets like this one. The tablet displays an ink inscription of the predecessor’s name and accomplishments. The panel is then sheathed and supported by the wooden decorated box. This tablet then acts as an effigy for their spirit. Treated like an almost physical human, the panels are fed fruits, tea, and pastries. Worshiping descendants will light incense sticks before approaching their ancestors. Incense is believed to aid in the transfer of prayers and communication with spirits. The average traditional Chinese home will have its ancestral tablet and/or shrine in the living room area.

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