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Graveside Picnics…

Graveside Picnics…

The Qingming Festival (清明节; pronounced “Ching Ming”) held was for many years derided and actively discouraged by the central government of China for being superstitious hokum. Obviously, this was never going to work in the face of 1.3 billlion Chinese and the oft repeated 5,000 years of cultural heritage. Now the powers that be have given in and the annual “Tomb Sweeping” event is a much enjoyed and celebrated time not just in PR China but throughout Chinese communities and among culturally related peoples everywhere such as Singapore, Malaysia and Vietnam, you will find this festival is a key event in the Spring of each year, a time of happiness and respect for your own personal history, relatedness to family, roots and heritage.

Ancestor Worship

Ancestor worship in general (not just here in China) is different from Deistic worship of Gods that generally revolve around asking for favors of one kind or another. Ancestors are provided for by the act of veneration itself, the worship has nothing to do with asking for favors and everything to do with filial piety; confusion arises from misunderstanding of the word “Worship” and its relatedness to deistic religion. Instead this is an act of homage, veneration and respect for ancestors’ achievements, trials and a celebration of their life. There are no prayers, but greetings and occasional requests for guidance. That said, many believe that ancestors are a thread that although dead can influence events in this life and therefore they need to be looked after, or they may curse you with bad luck. The concept of filial piety and its importance in Chinese culture are rooted in a fusion of the teachings of Confucius and Laozi.

Chinese religion is a strange and complex beast relative to the Wests reasonably easy to understand predominant monotheistic belief systems; ancestors, ghosts, astrology, flavors of buddhism and Taoism are mixed together in a potent cocktail that drives beliefs about food, health, Feng Shui and good fortune. These beliefs have percolated into almost every sector of society irrespective of how sophisticated they may be - many of the celebrations and belief systems are strongest in the most developed areas (Feng Shui in Hong Kong for example is a serious business indeed). It is this cocktail of often divergent and unrelated historical celebrations, deistic festivals, and gatherings that have been glued together that make the Chinese calender endlessly fascinating. As many Chinese will tell you, it can be very complicated!

TangXianzhong   History: Qing Ming and the Tang Dynasty

In the early 700’s Chinese enthusiasm for increasingly elaborate festivals to pay tribute to ancestors was getting expensive and time consuming diverting resources from more practical matters, consequently in 732 Tang Emperor Xuanzong declared that respects could only be formally paid to ancestors graves at Qing Ming, once a year.


Today, the rites included in this festival revolve around the greeting of ancestors, offerings of fruit, tea and incense given by the family, a cleaning of the graves and discussion of the ancestors’ time whilst alive. Most notable is the burning of paper objects and money that the dead are thought to be in need of whilst in the afterlife: bank notes (fake of course always very large denominations!) are central to this, people will throw money in the air and / or burn it for the ancestors in question; because the amounts are so large and living family members so generous with the “money” everyone must be very rich or inflation in the afterlife is rampant.
  Hell Money
You will find “Hell Bank Note” or sometimes “Bank of Hell Corporation” printed on the money (I couldn’t make this up…) This is from Christian missionaries in China where the locals thought the word Hell was the Christian word for the afterlife in general, hence it has positive connotation over here; More wealthy and venerated rather than screams and brimstone!

  Best Regards

The Team at Netelis Asia
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