Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Chinese remembrance of ancestors

My father's second cousin was the Reverend David MacDonald Paton, an Anglican priest who became an honorary canon of Canterbury Cathedral in 1966, and later one of the present Queen's chaplains from 1972-1983. From 1939-1951 David was previously a missionary in China, and I thought the following passage may be of interest from a preface written by his son, also David, to a reprinted edition of a book I've recently discovered first written by his father in 1953 entitled "Christian Missions and the Judgment of God". It concerns the good reverend's witnessing of a ceremony commemorating the ancestors of the Chinese family which taught David how to speak in Mandarin:

On the wall facing me were three portraits: father, grandfather, and great grandfather. Beneath them was a table, with on it a small wooden casket containing the tablets of the ancestors, and in front of it a piece of red paper with the father's name in beautifully written characters. At each side was a red candle. At the front of the table was a bowl or two of offerings of food. In turn, first the males, and then the females, kowtowed three times each before the table...

The whole ceremony was rather impressive. I don't know precisely what religious beliefs the various members of the family now have about the spirits of ancestors. But at the least, even for the most secularised, it represented a profound respect for the continuous achievements of the Chinese tradition, expressed in and disciplined by its main social organisation, the family.

You have to hand it to the Chinese - that's style...


Professional genealogical problem solving and research
Researching Scottish Family History (New book)

No comments: