• Ancestral halls are places for members of a clan to worship their ancestors or ancient sages, mainly serving to place ancestral tablets, worship ancestors, inflicts punishment on those who violates family rules and clan regulations, discuss big events, and hold important activities.
  • The name "ancestral hall" emerged as early as the Han Dynasty (206BC-220AD) when all of the ancestral halls were built at the site of graveyard, named as "tomb temple". Zhu Xi, a Song Dynasty Confucian scholar, established the rule of ancestral hall in his work Family Rituals.
  • In different times, clan members make full use of the delicacies and aesthetics in their time to design and renovate their ancestral hall. The objective of all the meticulous efforts is so simple, only to make it a place for inheritance and uniting the hearts of its members.
    At noon on April 26, 2010, the astonishingly large-scaled and new-fashioned Zhu Family Ancestral Hall was seen at the end of Shanghuangmen Street in Rucheng County, which is the youngest and most peculiar one among what we have seen. Built in 1946 and featured with both Chinese and Western styles, it distinguished itself from the others. However, it has not been completed.
    What we have seen during the past days tells such a fact that the moves to build ancestral halls did not come to a halt until 1949. Before that, the past several hundred years constitutes a family history and a chorography.
    In Rucheng County, it is easy to guess the surname of a village. Take Tuqiao Town for example, the names of Li Family Village and Hunang Family Village fully reveal its village surname, not to mention your walking into any village and looking up to see the words "Li Family Ancestral Hall" or "Huang Family Ancestral Hall". It seems that every tribe members has been following the surname settlement pattern during the long periods of time, and it remains so until this day. The ancestral hall in the front of the central village seems to be their mainstay, their deep root, and a deep mark they have left in the village.
Almost every village has its own ancestral hall. "It is also normal to have two or three ones in a village." For example, in Jinjiang Village of Rucheng County, the Zhu family owns four ancestral halls and eight halls. Such a phenomenon has been confirmed again and again in the countryside by which the interview vehicle passed. 60 years ago, such similar scenes might be seen at any place in Hunan.

Counties in southern Hunan, like Rucheng County and Guiyang County, have preserved an original style left over by history. Despite that some lion heads have been chiseled and some stone blocks at the gate been stolen, and that all had once been displaced for other uses. But the damage was relatively light and limited.

The migration of their ancestors and the destinations of the clan members have all been recorded in the ancestral halls. When repairing the general ancestral hall, all relevant villages will donate money and invest efforts and even hold fellowship activities among ancestral halls of different villages.

From April 24 to 26, 2010, we paid visits to about 10 ancestral halls, which were all designed in accordance with the practical situations and devoted particular care to Fengshui (a Chinese geomantic practice in which a structure or site is chosen or configured so as to harmonize with the spiritual forces that inhabit it). In front of each ancestral hall, there is a half-moon pond, serving to collect water and amass wealth and also playing the role of firefighting. The ancestral hall is almost situated in the middle of the front part of a village, with the east on its left and the west on its right, and residential houses surrounding it.

"Rucheng County boasts the largest quantity of ancestral halls and the most exquisite archways. Influenced by the Gan (the short name for Jiangxi) culture, the archways are in capital patterns," said Liu Zhuan, director of the Chenzhou Municipal Administration of Cultural Relics. "The stages of ancestral halls in Guiyang County are different from those in Rucheng County, the former are set up inside the ancestral halls while the latter are built outside," he added.

Renovation has never been stopped. "Generally, it takes place every 60 years. Recompiling the genealogy is always followed by the renovation of the ancestral hall, which will take the efforts of the whole clan", as the ancestral hall serves as a tie in connecting the whole clan. Each renovation has been recorded on a stele.

The Fan Family Temple in Rucheng County has clearly recorded seven renovations. Just like all the other ancestral halls, every effort of the clan members has all been recorded, and every donation of wood or money has also been engraved on the stones.

The steles still remain there, while the record of the clan members has been renewed for generations. The record of history and time carved on the steles is more than that. In each ancestral hall, we can see the traditions that a clan has been carrying forward and the glories that a member has achieved. Rucheng County of Chenzhou City has a population of 360,000 people and over 280 surnames. According to the third national cultural relics survey, more than 710 ancient ancestral halls were found there, which emerged in the Song and Yuan dynasties and flourished in the Ming and Qing dynasties. They probably were top ranked in Hunan, if not in China, in terms of the number and scale, and the historical, scientific, cultural and artistic value. If there is no ancestral halls, the Chinese surnames, with natural persistence, have been passed down from generation to generation and been well preserved over the five thousand years. Probably based on that, ancestral halls are the result of the concentrated outburst of a clan's cohesion. They are self-developed and self-disciplined, and follow their own rules, all for better survival.

Ancestral halls will be less and less until they are completely gone, but the culture of Chinese surnames may survive. Now more and more clans begin to recompile their genealogies, which may contribute to human being's nature of root attachment in an uncertain world, as well as a valued sense of belonging.