You may have noticed the ancestral tablets that can be found in homes across Asia. They consist of an upright piece of flat wood standing on a wooden pedestal. Both the pedestal and the borders of the tablet bear elaborate designs. On the centre of the tablet is written the name of an ancestor (containing the generation name that is used to identify their seniority within the family or clan) and the year in which he/she was born. Older tablets may mention the year of the reigning emperor of a specific dynasty. The characters for 'spiritual seat', shen wei, may be present and the date of the ancestor's death is also recorded.
The Chinese believe that a person has three souls: one remains in the earth after burial, one will be reincarnated and the third resides in the ancestral tablet. The tablet is kept and worshipped by the family for three to five generations but never beyond five. Some families prefer to place the tablet at a clan hall or temple and pay respects to their ancestors at these venues on important days of the year, such as the Ching Ming festival.
The tablet may have elaborate animal and floral designs and some are even gilded.
The names of the descendants who erected the tablet are written at the bottom, to the left of the ancestor's name.