April 5, 2010

Qingming Festival (清明节): Chinese Grave Sweeping

Today was the Qingming Festival in China. The Qingming Festival roughly translates as "The Clear and Bright Festival." As the Chinese use a different calendar than we do in the U.S., the festival is always on the 104th day after the Winter Solstice. During this festival many Chinese to pack a picnic lunch, including sweets, and hold a picnic on the graves of their ancestors. They then clean the graves which usually become overgrown during the rest of the year and offer special food to their ancestors. The festival dates back to 732 B.C.E. to stop the practice of wealthy families honoring their ancestors with frequent, extravagant rituals.             
            Many Chinese believe that in the afterlife, their ancestors have 'live' again but  in a new place. They also believe that their ancestors have the ability to interfere in the affairs of the living. To aid their ancestors in their new 'life' and to give their ancestors things that the families feel that they would want in the afterlife, the families burn Joss Paper which originally was money printed especially for the dead and has no value on Earth. Many Joss Paper bank notes are known as Hell Bank Notes—which sounds really funny to us.
            During the 1840s, Christian missionaries in China told the Chinese that non-Christians go to hell. The Chinese misunderstood the missionaries and thought that "hell" meant the neutral afterlife, which is typical of the Chinese beliefs. The money is only good for the dead at the "Bank of Hell." The practice of burning paper goods has grown enormously and now families can burn not only fake paper money but paper checks, paper mache models of sports cars, ipods, credit cards, and an array of modern things. It is considered very unlucky to keep a Joss Paper item in your house.
            It was a homework assignment for me to go home and burn a Joss Note. My sister graciously helped me with the burning of it in the back yard (water standing by.)

           It is an interesting festival. I do like the concept behind the festival: If you do not honor your parents, your children will not honor you. It is one of the most important holidays in China. I think my sister had a lot of fun. I originally wasn't going to burn the Joss Note as it was a neat keepsake to have, but my professor really stressed how disrespectful and vile it is in the Chinese culture to keep it. I hope you enjoyed reading about this unique festival. 


  1. Cool Holiday! I love chinese culture! I'm not sure I'd want to eat on people's graves though.

  2. Thanks for commenting. I don't think food and cemeteries mix either. I think it is a really cool tradition. My teacher told me that virtually everyone in China celebrates this--almost no one works during the holiday--not like in the U.S.


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