When the ‘dead’ shops spring up in local neighbourhoods selling incense and paper houses, cars, money and clothes and the words’tomb sweeping’ are frequently heard, I automatically know what time of year it is.
Every year during 4-6 April many Chinese people follow the traditional Chinese festival of Qing Ming. Its English translation is Tomb Sweeping Day.
This involves as many family members as possible spending several hours at the graves of deceased relatives.
The grave and headstone are cleaned. Food, which can be meat or fruit or a combination is laid before the tomb along with flowers.
Offerings of fake money, houses, cars and clothes are presented. Candles and incense are lit and then it is all burned before the ashes are cleaned and the food is removed.
Thai-Chinese people pay homage to the deceased (news.xinhuanet.com)
One of my students will take part in this activity with one hundred members of his family.
Other students will travel for hours to their hometowns where their dead relatives lie, but they’re not looking forward to the anticipated traffic jams on the return journey.
Last year the TV news showed pictures of people stranded for up to six hours or more on the massive roads. Some played badminton, others knocked out a quick game of basketball. Older people strolled around, shared food and made new friends on the road which, due to the intensity of traffic, had become a car park.
My students said that this festival was a good way to know and remember their roots and show appreciation for all that their past relatives had done for them.
It seemed that no-one really believed that dead family members need a paper IPhone 6 or a paper Mercedes car to get along in heaven, it’s more the principle than anything else.
These are the people who sacrificed in order to provide a better life for those to come, consequently Qing Ming is a valued, long-established way to say thank you and, to symbolically make sure they are completely comfortable in the after-life.