Chinese Tombstones (墓碑)
This article deals with tombstones from Chinese migrants who went overseas to English speaking countries during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, i.e. from the late Qing Dynasty (清朝) (1644-1911) to the early Republic of China (中華民國) eras.
This was the period when gold was discovered in the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Large numbers of Chinese left their homeland and headed for the goldfields overseas to make their fortunes and fully intending to return home to a life of luxury. However, for most of them things did not pan out that way. Instead they were discriminated against by the whites and most were kicked out of the goldfields for working too hard and had to seek a living doing other jobs. In North America most of them wound up working on the railroad under very dangerous circumstances to help unite vast distances for those countries. In essence they contributed to nation building and some paid for it with their lives but in the country’s history nary a word was mentioned about these Chinese railroad workers.
Tombstones that are inscribed in Chinese are the best repository sources for information on your ancestor. They are quite descriptive and contain a fair amount of detail about the individual and should be the initial step in the search for your lineage. This can be best illustrated by some samples to highlight the power of the written word on a tombstone.
The above tombstone from Castlemaine Cemetery located at Campbells Creek, Victoria, Australia provided by Pamela J Nicholls of Brookfield, Victoria, Australia. It provides three pieces of information for the late Zhang Zhanxi (張沾喜):
1. The right hand side reading from top to bottom reads 光緒丙申年 or Guangxu Bingshen year which translates to the year 1896.
2. The middle column reading from top to bottom says: 清沾喜張公墓 or Qing, Zhanxizhanggong Mu or Qing Dynasty era, grave of Zhang Zhanxi, male.
3. The left hand side reading from top to bottom says: 會邑官田村 or Hui County (会=會) Guantian Village.4. Unfortunately, there is no information on when he was born.
It is not known what name this person went by while living in Australia and if he has descendants they would be hard pressed to find English records for him unless they can verify both his Chinese and English names.
This second tombstone is from Canada and it contains both English and Chinese in its inscription which would be most helpful to the descendants who are researching their lineage.
1. The very top identifies it as a Chan (Cantonese Romanization) tombstone.
2. The top of the bottom section says in English it is the tombstone of Chan Po Tong (Cantonese Romanization) who lived from 1885 to 1963
3. The right hand side reading from top to bottom says: 廣東新會崖西旺沖村 or Guangdong Province, Xinhui County, Yaxi Municipality, Wangchong Village.
4. The middle column reads: 陳保松字礽柏之墓 or the grave of Chen Baosong whose Style Name was Rengbai.
The second column from the left reading from top to bottom says: 生于光緒十五年 or Born in the 15th year of the reign of Guangxu of the Qing Dynasty, i.e. 1885.
The far left hand column reading from top to bottom says: 終于民國五十二年 or Died in the 52nd year of the Republic of China, i.e.1963.
As can be seen from the above examples the tombstones yielded very valuable information about the ancestor, his Chinese name, where he came from and when he died. In the second case when he was born. This kind of information would be the best start for anybody doing Chinese Genealogy.
Here is a very interesting tombstone located in the Pine Hill Cemetery in Toronto, Canada. It belongs to a revolutionary general from China by the name of Chang Kuo Tao (Zhang Guotao [張國燾]). He was a founding member of the Communist Party in China who unfortunately was outsmarted by Mao Zedong (毛澤東) and was exiled.
Eventually, he wound up living in Toronto, Canada and died incognito. As can be seen, the tombstone is very plain for a man who could have been the Chairman of the Peoples’ Republic of China. Only him and his wife’s (Yang Zilie [楊子烈]) names are in Chinese and the rest in English.
What a tale could have been told if only this tombstone could speak!
For more information please go to: http://www.thestar.com/opinion/2009/09/26/the_man_who_could_have_been_mao.html
The above tombstone came from an old section of a Toronto, Canada cemetery and is quite plain and rather primitively engraved in marble, probably not done by a professional. The script is read from top to bottom and from right to left horizontally.
It belonged to a woman by the name of Xu Shun'an (許順安) who was married into the Zhang family (張門). She came from Dongxi village (東溪里) in Kaiping County (開平) in Guangdong Province (廣東). Only years are shown for her birth (1912) and death (1959) dates which meant she died at less than 47 years. However, it does show the name of her son (仔), Deyong (德永) and the names of her grandsons (孫), Dongyao (棟耀), and Yinqin (寅欽) who erected her tombstone (立碑).