Friday, April 4, 2008
Remembering the Dead
Today is Qingming Festival, or Tomb-Sweeping Day.
It's usually held around this time of year, where people take time to visit their relatives' graves and remember their family roots.
Qingming literally means "clear brightness", harking the beginning of spring.
And today is the first time Qingming is made into a public holiday. China changed its public holiday calendar, adding the Dragon Boat Festival and Mid-Autumn Festival as days off, while shortening the week-long May Day holiday to three days.
Last night while walking to the bus stop I encountered a woman and her small child tending to fires they made on the sidewalk. There were actually three piles of ashes, burning "money" and other paper goods to their ancestors in the heavens. It is believed the living can pass on goods and messages to the deceased by burning them.
In Hong Kong, Qingming has always been a day off. In places like Kennedy Town on the west side of Hong Kong Island, shops sell stacks of heavenly money, as well as clothes, houses, mobile phones and even cars made of paper.
When I visited my grandparents' graves, we'd burn money as well as a set of clothes, incense, and present some chicken with Chinese wine, my grandfather's favourite tipple. Then my relatives and I would have lunch in a restaurant and they would reminisce about my grandparents and their childhoods.
However, on the Chinese mainland, this festival wasn't designated as a day off, and the elderly and academics felt this tradition will soon be lost of it wasn't made into a public holiday so that young people could participate.
But today as I went out on the streets, I didn't see many people carrying flowers or things they would need to visit their ancestors' tombs.
Instead I saw many young people eager to go shopping, wearing trendy clothes and sipping Starbucks iced coffees as they wandered the malls.
So much for remembering the dead.