The article gives a characteristic of an ancient Chinese ancestral temple using the materials of the classic Confucian “Li ji” treatise (“Record [of] rites”). The author describes and analyzes symbolism of the temple’s structure, attributes of interior design and its functional purpose. Ancestral shrine was a special sacred place with its sanctity being ensured by the presence of ancestors' spirits. Their constant presence there determined a certain religious behavior of a human, tied with performing various rites to establish a connection between the sacred and the profane, communicate with cosmic life. Through the use of the symbolic language an image of a man and an image of the world are presented in the temple. Being a sacred place, the temple was a perfect, harmonious, systematized state of reality that differed in its properties from mundanity. This enabled the ancestral shrine to guarantee sacred purity of important social events of an ancient man's life. Rites of passage, for example, due to their performing in the ancestor shrine, always had a successful outcome, making sure that “the hero” of the event will thrive and providing for stability and unity of society. Location and structure of the ancestral temple reflected the structure of the world. A man's settling in reality began with erecting the ancestral shrine that served as a starting point for arranging the rest of the world. The space of the temple symbolizing the universe was also a “sounding” space that emphasized music's ability to create cosmic order, overcome chaos and help in uniting of the man and the universe. It is exactly the space and the state of reality where through performing a proper rite it was possible to fully express filial piety (xiao) – which was the purpose of life for the ancient Chinese. Information on the ancestral temple containing in “Li ji” allows making a conclusion that it does in general correspond with the universals presented in temple symbolism of other cultures, which are described in scientific literature.

Key words: Li ji, ancestral shrine, family shrine, zongmiao, sacred space, Zhong yong, sacrifice in ancestral temple 

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About the author 


Irina B. Keidun – PhD (History), Assistant Professor at the Department of Chinese Studies, Amur State University;

21 Ignatievskoe shosse, Blagoveshchensk, Russia, 675027; This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.