Tomorrow, April 4th, is Qingming Festival in China. Pronounced Chingming and known as Tomb Sweeping Day in English, this is a day to honour dead ancestors by travelling to the family tomb to sweep, clean and place flowers and offerings of food and drink on the grave.
Burning paper that is meant to resemble money in hope that the deceased is not lacking anything, is also a common practice; so common, in fact, that the authorities are urging people to take precautions and not allow fires to get out of control. Apparently, across China, a total of 520 million people visited their ancestors’ tombs during last year’s festival and 200 forest fires were reported during the three day holiday!
This week, we see huge stacks of the gold coloured paper everywhere. Looking something like fancy paper napkins, it’s piled in the marketplace and outside stores waiting for people to purchase it and burn it, sometimes on the graves but not always. Paper burning was also part of the Lantern Festival that took place at the end of the Chinese New Year celebrations. That night, as fireworks exploded overhead, bonfires lined the streets outside our building and we already saw a couple of people burning a pile of the paper a couple of evenings ago on the sidewalk directly across the street from where they purchased it.
In addition to remembering dead ancestors, in modern times Qingming has also been seen as a time to pay respects to those who’ve died in incidents considered sensitive in China, incidents such as the Tiananmen Square massacre that took place in Beijing on Tomb Sweeping Day in 1976.
Qingming is celebrated on the 104th day following the Winter Solstice or the 15th day after the Spring Equinox. In addition to being a time of remembrance, it’s also a time to celebrate the coming of spring and in farming communities, it marks the time to begin plowing and seeding. Outdoor pursuits including kite flying are popular Qingming activities. Though spring seems a little late this year, the past couple of days have been the warmest since we arrived in China. The grass is finally starting to turn green and I was delighted to notice tiny buds on one of the trees we passed on our walk this afternoon.
We hope that the beautiful spring weather continues for the next few days as we’re off to Dandong for our three day Tomb Sweeping holiday. Dandong, a 4 hour bus trip north of here, is located just across the Yalu River from North Korea but more about that when we get back!