Well, April is officially upon us and with it comes the looming threat of midterms, the looming excitement of a trip to Yunnan, and the holiday of Qing Ming Jie.
Qing Ming Jie, known in English as “Grave Sweeping Day” (it’s one of the few Chinese holidays that is not a literal translation, qing ming means “bright and clear”) is a traditional holiday in China where people return home, visit the graves of their ancestors, and clean them. This can range from dusting the grave off to full on gardening, removing weeds and trees that have taken root. Once very important, China’s rapid modernization made the holiday less popular (why visit the grave when I have to work?), so in order to preserve the holiday, the Chinese government officially deemed the first weekend in April Qing Ming Jie, and made the following Monday a holiday. I’m not sure if this actually increased participation in the holiday, or just gave people an extra day to sleep.
The holiday’s importance lies deep in traditional Chinese belief. While I am no expert in Eastern religions, venerating one’s ancestors and honoring one’s parents is very important in traditional Chinese religions, relating to the concept of “ancestor worship.” It actually is not that far from traditions in other cultures, such as bringing flowers to graves on birthdays, which is a common practice in the west. Bringing flowers to graves on Qing Ming Jie has become more and more common in China, especially since the practice of burning Min Bi has fallen out of fashion. In the past (and in some places, modern times), it was common to burn Min Bi, literally “dark currency” on Qing Ming Jie for the deceased to use in the next life. Min Bi is obviously not real money, but paper that looks like currency, sometimes with the tasteful addition of the words “Bank of Hell” on the fake notes. Environmental concerns and I’m assuming the complaints about inflation in Hell have made the practice very rare today.
I had the opportunity to visit my great-great grandparent’s graves this weekend, but unfortunately, I am not going to. One of the reasons is the ever present need to finish work, another is the fact that I have no idea where they are. Well, I have some idea. They are on the edge of West Lake in Hangzhou. Saying “they are on the edge of West Lake in Hangzhou” is about as specific as saying “I live in an apartment on the island of Manhattan” or “I’m watching the really violent and confusing Quentin Tarantino movie”; it does not narrow your search parameters much. While getting to Hangzhou is already a hassle, spending several hours traversing the perimeter of West Lake looking for their graves (that might not even exist anymore, China’s Reforming and Opening Up may have claimed them back in the 80s) seems both inconvenient and time consuming. While I may be dishonoring my ancestors, I hope to come back someday, presumably when I have more time and track down where the grave is (or was).
Midterms are next week, which gives this weekend an air of urgency and makes this upcoming Monday all the more precious for studying. I also have to pre-register for my courses at Georgetown for my senior(!) fall semester, and start applying for jobs over the summer. I will be making a trip to Yunnan very soon, which sounds both exciting and a little daunting. There is so much to prepare for I’m not sure what to start with–I guess that is the essence of modern life. I guess Qing Ming Jie offers us a moment to step back and focus on what is truly important–family and remembernce.