Ancestral Journey: Day Two

The next day we decided to take the morning off to do some sightseeing of Huizhou.  We visited the scenic West Lake area, ascended the Sizhou Pagoda, and walked through the nearby market to buy mui choy, the local specialty of preserved mustard cabbage.  The wet market portion sold various live treats like turtles, frogs, geese, and rabbits.  Photographically speaking, China is pretty tough as there is a constant foggy grey haze obscuring things, no doubt caused by pollution.  Blue skies were pretty non-existent during our visit and the sun can be so obscured to only show as a dull pink disc in the sky.

When we returned to our relatives’ shop in Wing Wu, we were greeted by a new relative, Kon Choong.  He remembered Chung Nai Yen, Chung Jen Miau’s (my great-great-grandfather) eldest son who had remained in the village when the rest of his family left for Malaysia.  He also appeared to be related to Liew Min, whose father was Jen Yen, the elder brother of Jen Miau.  We had found a link!

The relatives also indicated they knew about some local family grave, so we agreed to visit it.  Through various twists in the translation, we had thought this belonged to Nai Yen, though as it turned out, his remains are interred elsewhere.  With the locals as guides, we took the bus to visit the grave site, which was in a recently-cleared area on a hill, a few paces from the road.  Obviously this site could be threatened in the future; a pig farm was being built only several hundred meters down the road.  When we checked our GPS coordinates later, we were able to locate the hill as being across the river from Tam Tong, about a kilometer away as the crow flies.

Chinese graves are often mass family graves with a one or more headstones engraved with the list of those buried there.  Typically, these stones will list a generation number, along with the generation name, and below this a line containing the given names, starting from the centreline outward (obviously to allow room for adding names).  There is sometimes a second stone on the other side, listing only the surnames of the wives.  Additional generations are added to the bottom of the stone — a very efficient method that allows the recording of many individuals, albeit without date information.  We had no idea how the individual graves were laid out at the site.

As we examined the gravestone, we were delighted to discover the Jen generation name and Chung Jen Miau (1858-1896) on it.  Above his name was listed the Woon generation and Chung Woon Fah (1826-1886), his father!  We were extremely excited at this point — not only had we found my great-great-grandfather, but my great-great-great-grandfather, an unexpected bonus.

Now, we had previously ignored the central stone, thinking it simply listed the fact that it was a Chung burial site.  But upon further inspection, we saw it mention something along the lines of the grave of the great patriarch of the family, Chung Yeuk Lee (1782-1877), Woon Fah’s father, and his wife.  We had nearly overlooked the fact that Yeuk Lee would have likely been the first one in the grave site and all his relatives would have been buried with him.  This was a triple bonus!  Three generations (7, 8, and 9) of direct ancestors in one grave site was hitting the proverbial jackpot. 

The grave also contained names from generation 10 and 11, but since my great-grandfather Jen Miau had already left China by that time, these relatives are less directly related to me.

Obviously designed with good feng shui in mind, the grave site overlooks the rolling hills of this area of China.  Five generations of Chungs, dating back to the 1700s, would have walked on this very ground to bury their deceased, an incredible thought.  They would likely have crossed the river from Tam Tong and ascended these hills.  This was not a formal graveyard and we surmised that in olden times, families would simply have sought out suitable sites based upon good feng shui and that land ownership was not so much of an issue.  We all made the traditional three bows of respect to the grave site before leaving.


The day was not complete yet.  After returning back to the road, we turned off at a Chinese temple on the way back and ascended a small hill.  At the top of the hill were some pottery urns, about 60cm high.  We were told that these urns contained the bones of the deceased that, for whatever reasons, had been removed from their graves and placed in these urns.  It is possible as well that some of these remains were from graves that had to be removed when the land was cleared and used for other purposes — the price of progress I suppose.  The Hakka people also follow this practice as they brought their ancestors’ bones with them during their migrations.

More importantly, we were also told that one of the urns contained the remains of the generation #2 ancestor, Chung Cheong Yung, a very exciting prospect.  Jen Miau’s eldest son, Nai Yen, would have been interred there as well.  We were not able to verify either fact personally as it would have involved opening the urn to read a memorial tablet inside the lid, and that was only possible the following day as part of the Ching Ming celebrations.  However, we wouldn’t have reason to doubt the local relatives as they would be fully knowledgeable about their early ancestors such as #1 and #2.

Today exceeded all our expectations of the entire visit.  We had found generations 2, 7, 8, 9 in a single day.  We wanted to find #1.  Would we?

We returned back to Tam Tong and had dinner with the local relatives.  Discussions some time during the day revealed that the local relatives did indeed know where ancestor #1, Chung Yuk Yen (1551-1622) was buried.  They had made several attempts to find the grave in the past and were successful sometime in the 80’s.  Kim Seng had also heard of this site on his previous visit when the Wing Wu relatives pointed to some large hills to the south and mentioned some vague stories about ancestors being buried there.  They’d warned us that this was a strenuous climb, and that they wouldn’t want to attempt it if it were raining.