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Spring Rites of the Liu Clan
Since their migration to the present-day New Territories in Song and Yuan Dynasties, the major clans of Hong Kong have been worshipping their ancestors in their ancestral halls. They share a deep-rooted belief that through the rites of worship, their ancestors bestow blessings on their posterity. The activity also fosters cohesion between members of the clan and advocates the morals of revering one’s ancestors. With the exception of the Great Clearance in the early Qing dynasty, the ancestral worship activities in Hong Kong have not been interrupted and have passed from generation to generation, which become a unique local custom. Although some of the rites have now been simplified, one may gain a glimpse of rural life in the olden days and the traditional thoughts in the Chinese society.
Liu Man Shek Tong
Many rural clans in the New Territories organize spring worships. They are the most important clan activities of a year. The date of the worship differs between villages, but it is mostly held in the 2nd or 3rd Lunar Month. The ancestral worship ceremony of the Liu Clan of Sheung Shui in particular retains a majority of traditional rites, with rich offerings. The spring worship on the 2nd of the 2nd Lunar month each year is joined not only by clansmen but also by many students and local custom lovers visiting Liu Man Shek Tong, who hope to have a better understanding of village customs through the ancestral worship ceremony.
Liu Man Shek Tong
The ancestors of the Liu Clan migrated southwards at the end of the Yuan Dynasty and settled first in Tuen Mun, then moved to Sheung Shui. The Liu Man Shek Tong, which was built in 1751, was the Ancestral Hall of the Liu Clan. It is a traditional three-hall building with two open courtyards, and enshrines founding ancestors such as Liu Chung-kit. Women were not allowed to enter the ancestral hall in the past, but as times change the rule has been relaxed, but during times of ancestral worship, women of the clan have to stay outside the hall.
Branches of the Liu Clan
After settling down in Sheung Shui, Liu Chung-kit established 3 families and divided the district into “Si Dau” – four lineages. The families of the 2nd family built two ancestral halls. The Tung Dau lineage (the 2nd branch) belongs to the Liu Ying-lung family (Yin Shing Tong); the Sai Dau lineage belongs to the Liu Ying-fung family (Ming Duk Tong). Each year they also organize spring worships at their own ancestral halls, on the 3rd of the 2nd lunar month and the Spring Equinox (20th or 21st of the 3rd lunar month) respectively. The ancestral worship ceremony and the offerings are more or less the same as that held in Liu Man Shek Tong, only with fewer participating clansmen.
Traditional rites
The ancestral worship rites begin at 11 in the morning. The rundown follows that of the ancient customs, with over a dozen ceremony masters taking up various tasks, including the Tong Zhan (responsible for chanting), Yin Zhan (responsible for rites of passage), Si Zhu (responsible for declaiming the invocations), Si Zun (responsible for wine offering), Si Pao (responsible for the launch of fireworks), Si Gu (responsible for sounding the drum and gongs), and the passing of offerings. The most senior member of the clan presents the offerings to ancestors and deities to the ancestors, and then other clansmen offer wine according to the order of seniority. The entire ceremony takes 45 minutes, which has been greatly shortened compared to the past, but it still retains much of the old ways. For example, the invocations read by the Tong Zhan and Si Zhu are written in ancient style, and they are read in a slightly Hakka inflection.
Traditional rites
Before the commencement of the rites, all doors of the ancestral hall has to be closed and no persons are allowed to enter or leave for fear of interrupting the rites (The original purpose is to keep out the evil spirits). Meanwhile, the clansmen open the two small doors on the shrine of each ancestor, invite the ancestors to come out and partake of the offerings. After the ceremony, the doors to the shrines are closed and the door of the hall is re-opened.
Traditional rites
On the day of the spring worship a tableful of offerings is placed before the ancestral shrine. Besides tea, wine, rice, soup and all manners of seafood and other vegetarian food, there are “five raw and five cooked ingredients” – comprising various entrails and meats of chicken and swine – placed in ten dishes. The “Five raw” ingredients are laid in unique forms: chicken meat is carved in hen-form, the pork is scored with crisscrossing cuts to give an impression of “fields”, the pig’s heart is made into a “lotus flower”, the pig’s liver is made into a “leaf”, the pig’s stomach is made into a “rat”. The last is fashioned out of the traditional notion that rats only emerge when food is abundant; which is why a rat is used to symbolize the wish for abundant harvest. It is a representation of the values of the rural village.
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