This past Tuesday, China celebrated Qing Ming Jie, or Tomb Sweeping Festival.

According to my students this is “a very important festival in China” because “we go to pay respects to our ancestry”. Can you tell what our vocabulary was for this week?

Children playing at a tomb on Qing Ming after it's been littered with paper money and other effigies.

Traditionally Tomb Sweeping Festival is a time when Chinese families come together to clean the graves of their ancestors and enjoy spring weather. This holiday is steeped in history and dates back at least 2,500 years to the Tang Dynasty. During the Communist Revolution this holiday was suppressed (none of that filial piety here, sir!) and was only reinstated on the mainland in 2008. And the students rejoiced, for there was one less day of school!

For those of you more familiar with Catholic holidays it is comparable to All Souls Day.

On the day of Qing Ming hundreds of vendors flock to street corners to sell their traditional graveside monuments, paper ‘spirit’ money, and firecrackers, while hundreds more people flock to them to purchase these adornments.

A vendor selling paper money and grave decorations

The rat-a-tat sounds of hundreds of firecrackers can be heard through the streets, the objective to frighten away evil spirits, and the smell of smoke permeates the air.

Paper money is burned so that those in the afterlife will have some money to spend on their heavenly digs and whatever else they may need to purchase.

Burning paper 'spirit' money

Each village has their own traditions when it comes to Qing Ming, and perhaps it can be said that every family does too. One student who was asked about her Qing Ming informed us that in her village it was bad luck for a single, young girl to visit the graves and thus she was forced to stay home while her parents took care of the worshipping, burning, and cleaning.

However, with all the land grabs going on in China at the moment and the sheer force of expansion it will be interesting to see how long the tradition of Qing Ming will last. The land needed for graves is quickly becoming the land needed for new high-rises. When there is only room for the living, what do you do with the dead?


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