TUESDAY, APRIL 5: Ancient spiritual traditions are honored with modern technology in China today, as citizens across the country observe the Qingming Festival. One English version of the name—Tomb-Sweeping Day—may seem ominous. But, there’s an uplifting purpose: For more than 2,500 years, Qingming has been a day for remembering ancestors, partly by tending to their gravesites. Families often burn paper representations of objects the deceased may need in death; and they may perform funeral services for those who have recently died. (Wikipedia has details.)
Although Hong Kong and Macau have been marking Qingming uninterrupted for millennia, most Chinese were barred from practicing the tradition by the Communist Party from 1949 until 2008. Now, the holiday is popular once again and families across China will be celebrating by burning paper versions of everything from iPhones and iPads to cars, aftershave and credit cards. (Check out a news article from XinhuaNet for more information.) The Chinese Consumers’ Association reports that more than 1,000 tons of paper products are burnt as offerings for the afterlife during each Qingming.
Culture has changed drastically since the Chinese began marking Qingming. Today’s mobility means that many people live far from ancestral villages. Adaptations include inscribing names of ancestors on paper taken to a closer cemetery for Qingming honors. (Get an American perspective from the Chinese Culture Center of San Francisco.)
Some Chinese wonder if being buried near one’s hometown soon will be an option only for the wealthy: Shanghai burial plots are now more expensive than most local real estate, due to lack of space. (CNN International has more.) The Chinese Ministry of Civil Affairs is combatting the problem by promoting cremations and the scattering of ashes, funding funerals for the underprivileged and creating standards that go into effect today. (XinhuaNet has a news article.) Some young Chinese men and women have started paying their respects online, through virtual tomb sweeping websites.