After enjoying the portraits used in ancestor
worship by aristocratic families during the
Ming and Qing dynasties (fourteenth through early twentieth century), we thought you might be curious about how the tradition continues today in some Chinese and Chinese-American communities.
A team of Chinese-American teenagers who are enrolled in the weekend Chinese Experimental School in Reston, Virginia, and the Gaithersburg Chinese School agreed to help tell that story.
The students attended a series of workshops
sponsored by the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery to learn about archival research, documentary photography, storytelling, and interviewing techniques and the investigations began. The teens spoke with relatives
in Taiwan to track down family photos and ask about funeral practices there. They also interviewed parents and other members of the local Washington-area Chinese community. They visited nearby temples and took photographs of current ritual practices.
The words and images in this section were pieced together from memories, family stories, old photo albums, and video footage. The result
of this research is not, of course, a comprehensive survey of modern Chinese funerary practices, which vary widely. Instead we are given personal insights, varied perspectives, and information about practices rooted in a range of decades of the twentieth century, in various Chinese communities, and in different parts of the world. Many of the
interviews and photographs indicate the importance of Grave Sweeping Day (Qingming jie), celebrated in the spring, and the practice of burning paper "spirit" money for the benefit of the ancestors in the afterlife. The student researchers present these glimpses into contemporary versions of longstanding practices for your enjoyment and to honor the ancestors.
The Sackler Gallery would like to thank the students for their hard work over several months; their families for their enthusiastic support; and Jonathan Chen, principal of the Chinese Experimental School, whose guidance and organization were key to the success of this project. Peggy Spitzer Christoff, a scholar whose work has focused on Chinese immigrant experience, was the project leader and research coach. Thanks also go to those who so generously shared their family photographs and told their stories; we are all the richer.
Meet the teenagers.