Initially published: Mar 2018
The Ching Ming Festival (literally meaning ‘clean and bright’ festival) or the Tomb Sweeping Day, observed by the Chinese for over 2500 years, falls on the 4th of April this year. It’s the day that Chinese people visit the tombstones of their ancestors to pay their respect. It is similar to the All saint day or the day of the dead, in the Western world.
The defuncts have a very special place in the Chinese culture. Traditionally, they are buried intact close to the native place, so that they can watch over descendants. Practicality has also been a key driver for this tradition: being buried close to the family’s residence allowed their descendants to take care of the grave and pay their respects much more easily.
According to history texts, the Ching Ming festival origin dates back to 732 AD, when the Emperor Xuanzong observed that too many lavish ceremonies were being done to honour their ancestors. He decreed that such practices should only be held on one day of the year.
The adults as well as kids participate in this tradition. They pray before tombstones of the ancestors, offer the joss in both the forms of incense joss-sticks, sweep the tombs and offer flowers, food, tea and even roasted piglets in memory of the ancestors!
Photo credit: MIKE CLARKE/AFP/Getty Images
As land in Hong Kong is posing a serious challenge even for the living, dying is becoming an increasingly expensive affair. David Dodwell in an article in the SCMP says “with about 46,000 deaths a year, most Hong Kong families have for decades recognised the impossibility of burial for their lost ones.” Cremation today seems to has become the best option for many families even if the waiting list for a niche in a columbarium can take as much as four years.
Crowded cemetery Pok Fu Lam
Whatever the future of the way we say good bye to our dead- ashes distributed at sea, over gardens, in cemeteries or in niche in a columbarium, hopefully the philosophy behind the Ching Ming day will remain intact for generations to come.