Tomb-sweeping Day in China

Chinese holidays are both creative and imaginative. Over ten years ago our General Manager in China, Zhang Jingjie, or Maria to those who have worked with her over the years, told her new boss (that would be me) that she and my staff were taking the day off for a national holiday. Asking her what holiday was at the beginning of April she replied: Tomb-sweeping Day. My partner Dave Dodge and I had never heard of this holiday. Believing there was a bad connection, I asked her to give me the name of the festival again. She responded that it was actually the Qingming Festival, but is better known as Tomb-sweeping Day, and was a national holiday.

Better educated, I now know that Tomb-sweeping day is either on April 4th or 5th, on the 104th day after the winter solstice or the 15th day from the Spring Equinox. The Tomb-sweeping Festival is named for exactly what it’s intended to accomplish – taking care of ancestral gravesites. It’s a time where a family will pay their respect to dead family members. They clean weeds and other debris from the tomb and add fresh soil if needed. In many cases they will take with them paper replicas of money, various foods items, computers, luxury handbags, and material goods. They then burn these paper products in symbolically hoping that the deceased is not lacking for money, food, or material goods. In addition, family members will often bring a person’s favorite foods and drink to the gravesite and may even have a family picnic there.

Over time, tomb-sweeping customs have been modified as more people are being cremated. As this happens relatives and friends will gather and present flowers as a token of respect. The remainder of the day is then used as one where family members gather and enjoy each other’s company.

The Qingming celebration is also big business. Over 520 million people visited their ancestor’s tombs in 2012 and spent more than $1.5 billion on paper replicas of material goods and money that was then sacrificially burned. Sometimes, especially in heavy winds, the burning gets a little out of hand and over 200 forest fires were reported during the 2012 Tomb-sweeping Festival.

Maria is now telling us that the Dragon Boat Festival is on June 12th. We can’t wait to hear what this is about!

Alan Refkin

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