Tombstone Facts: What do the inscriptions on the tombstones mean?


Do you know the meaning of the inscriptions on tombstones other than the ancestry and name of the deceased?

The inscriptions on a tombstone are divided into a middle, top and bottom section, which describe the identity and background of the deceased. At the top of the tombstone is the ancestor's place of origin or family name. In the upper part of the inscription is usually the date when the tombstone was erected or rebuilt, and most tombstones today have the date of the ancestor's death inscribed so that children and grandchildren can know it for the convenience of commemorative services on the anniversary of the death; in the lower part of the inscription is the name of the person who erected the tombstone. The lower part of the inscription lists the name of the person who erected the monument, while the upper part reads "yong si (永祀)", which usually refers to eternal remembrance and blessing, and expresses the deepest condolences and blessings for the deceased.

The name of the deceased is written in the middle section of the inscription, which must be counted down to an auspicious number, and there are different mnemonics for different origins. The Cantonese people have a different mnemonic for "life, old age, sickness, death and suffering", which means that the whole line of text is counted down by mnemonics, and the last word counted is "life, old age", which represents auspiciousness. If it is "illness, death and suffering", it represents bad luck. Therefore, modern Chinese characters on inscriptions are usually 7, 11 or 12 characters long.

If you see the name of "xian kao" (late father) and two "xian bi" (late mother) on the tombstone, it means that a husband and two wives are buried together; some people also add "hui (讳)" and "shi (諡)" before the name of the elder, where "hui" is the name of the deceased's lineal ascendant. "Shi" is the name of the deceased's direct line of honor; "shi" is the name added to the name of a person of moral merit after death.

While sweeping graves during the Qingming Festival, you can learn about your family history and heritage from the tombstones.

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