Bendigo Joss House Temple calls for return of Chinese ancestral tablets

Zhang Yong Fu's Chinese ancestral tablet. Zhang Yong Fu was a Chinese hawker who was born in the Xinhui District in the Guangdong Province in China.
Zhang Yong Fu's Chinese ancestral tablet. Zhang Yong Fu was a Chinese hawker who was born in the Xinhui District in the Guangdong Province in China.

Bendigo Joss House Temple is hopeful Chinese ancestral tablets that were believed to have gone missing in the 1940s and 1950s can be found and returned.

Made of wood with Chinese lettering, Joss House supervisor Darren Wright said the tablets gave a fascinating insight into the story of thousands of Chinese people who were part of Bendigo’s gold rush.

Joss House originally housed hundreds of wooden ancestral tablets, which are made upon a person’s death and bear their details, until the 1940s and ‘50s when the temple fell into disrepair.

“Ancestral tablets were made upon the death of an individual and bear the person’s name, where in China they were from, and age,” Mr Wright said.

“From a religious perspective, they are used by family to pay respect to those that have gone before and are miniature wooden versions of the footstones on the graves at Chinese burial grounds.”

“The return of even one or two tablets would be extremely exciting, both from a religious and historical point of view.”

In 2014, the Joss House and Bendigo Heritage Attractions were fortunate to have a 140-year-old ancestral tablet returned to the temple.

The tablet was that of Zhang Yong Fu, a Chinese hawker who was born in the Xinhui District in the Guangdong Province in China. 

Mr Wright said the Chinese attach great importance to their ancestors in order to gain self-understanding and that the idea that these tablets may be buried in boxes in someone’s shed or closet is a great shame.

It is believed many of the tablets were collected by children who took wagers with their friends to go into the building and get one.

“If anyone in the community suspects they may have one of these tablets or any objects from the Joss House, we would love to hear from them,” Mr Wright said.

“We don’t need to know any details of how the family came to have these items and will greet any returns with gratitude and complete anonymity.”

Those with artefacts that they think might be linked to Joss House can call Darren Wright at the temple on Monday, Wednesday or Friday from 11am to 3pm on 5442 1685.

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Darren Wright and Dennis O'Hoy with the 140-year-old tablet of Zhang Yong Fu.

Darren Wright and Dennis O'Hoy with the 140-year-old tablet of Zhang Yong Fu.

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