The object I intend to explore for the assignment is the Chinese Spirit tablet, or Ancestral tablet. It is usually placed on an altar at home, or in a temple as an alternative. The Spirit tablets maintain the general form: a rectangular plate on a base, its material, size, shape varies depends on the preference of the owner. Although it can be made of metal or plastic, the most common material is wood, especially those considered to be more prestigious such as Teak or Santalum album (Indian sandalwood). The height of the tablet is usually around 15 to 20 cm, but the exact measurement often differs based on the preference of the owner, which is often related to Feng shui. While a simple rectangular tablet on a base will serve the purpose, many will choose tablets with elaborate sculptures, carvings of traditional symbols on the frame or on the base such as lotuses. Some will also put the tablet into a glass case with wooden frame.
While spirit tablets vary in their appearances, it’s the writing on the tablet that distinguishes one from another. A tablet can be dedicated to specific deities, a specific deceased family member, or to ancestors in general. For example: “X氏始祖妣及祖宗三代考妣一切之神主” (Tablet of the ancestor of X family and his wife and couples of the three earlier generations) 考refers to male ancestors and 妣 refers to female ancestors. In some cases only male ancestors would be mentioned on the tablet. Others would also indicate the ancestral land of the family.
An empty spirit tablet is usually bought from a maker of religious goods, and the writings are added to it later. It’s also common to ask a monk or priest to bless the tablet to sanctify it. The price of the tablet can be hundreds of dollars depends on the material and the labor invested to make ut.