Been quite busy recently spreading time between Beijing, Guangdong and Hong Kong and thus have been a bit slow with blog updates. Which is all the more reason why I enjoyed some free time hunting around of the back alleys of the antiques world with James from UK based Shimu Chinese Furniture (who by the way also a fan of Shanxi painted furniture and has a very nicely developing blog on Chinese antiques here worth a look). Of course the “finds” are different each time and this particular visit turned up this amazing family Shrine from Gansu in western China.
Known as “fó kān” (佛龛) in Chinese (or sometime fo gui 佛柜), these are shrines of worship – essentially a family temple. In ancient times, Fo Kan were dug from rock much like niches or grottos as can still be seen today in many buddhist heritage sites. Later stone, wood and other materials were used. Eventually Fo Kan evolved and began taking on architectural characteristics, modeling houses, official buildings and even palaces. In many ways they are very particular to each region, more so like architecture then furniture. This particular one is quite impressive and its owner would likely have had some level of material wealth judging by it size and grandeur.
The Confucian ideas concerning filial piety strongly reinforced the practice of ancestor worship and thus Fo Kan were commonly seen in ancestral halls, homes and temples. Inside would contain religious statuary or “soul tablets.” As ancestor worship is a complicated topic in itself I shall leave this for different future post.
Probably late 18th or early 19th century, the inscriptions on this Fo Kan read 父母恩泽似海深 fùmǔ ēnzé sì hǎi shēn (left) 宗族功德如天大 zong zu gong de ru tian da（right). In English this basically would translate as “Our parents kindness is as deep as the ocean and the merits of the clan are as vast as the sky.” (谢谢小花)
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