April 5th is officially 清明节 (Qingming Festival). It is a Chinese tradition to pay respect to ancestors and make symbolic offerings so they have a better after-life. This tradition is accompanied by “扫墓” or sweeping of the tomb. Today, I was able to witness this tradition as practiced in Guilin with my wife’s side of the family.
The above was taken along a road leading to a major cemetery. As you can see in the image, old and young take part in this important Chinese tradition. I noticed the boy quietly observing what her mother was buying while on the back of his grand-father. In this shot, he was looking back at me, curious, and probably wondering what is this big lens aiming at him.
Qingming was toned down by the Chinese government in 1949 when the new China was officially established. At that time, the country wanted to ditch a lot of traditions it thought were “old.” For example, the custom of women binding their feet was officially abolished. Chinese men no longer could have concubines, and women were made completely equal. In 2008, this tradition of ancestor worship was officially restored and recognized as a national holiday.
Bear in mind, 1949 was a momentous year, because for the first time over 100 years, the Chinese finally had destiny in their own hands. The country yearned to erase the past and hurriedly leap forward.
In regards to Qingming, the ordinary Chinese never really held back on this important tradition.
Ancestor worship is a form of filial piety, rooted in Confucianism.
We bought incense, firecrackers, flowers, paper money, and other symbolic offerings. They are meant to bring the ancestors wealth and material comfort.
The firecrackers are meant to scare ghosts away. I will attest to the fact that they are loud!
They are wrapped in red paper. Red is an important and auspicious color in Chinese culture. It represents happiness and luck.
Imagine an entire city 扫墓 (Saomu) all at once. Think of the sight and the sound. It is filled with smoke from burning incense and paper money. Firecrackers also add constant popping noises. They leave a sea of red paper bits all over.
Chinese culture is loud, both in sound and color! I have always wondered if there is a relationship in the Chinese habbit of speaking loud in public and the loudness in festivities. Today, I really felt there was such a connection.
Some offerings are more ornate and elaborate. This gold money tree really caught my attention. Look at the shape of the pot, the gold coin ‘soil,’ and the tree itself bearing gold coin fruit. I can’t think of anything else from any other culture this capitalistic!
You may click on the image to bring up a larger version. There are many more other symbolisms of wealth I have yet to mention in that money tree.
We didn’t buy it, but I am certain this item commanded higher margins too. Did I mention the way to send it to the after-life is to burn it?
I have also seen fake cigarettes, 10Billion U.S. dollar bills, photos of European-style mansions, and even cars. My thoughts on that? In one word, pragmatism!
In China, the law requires the dead to be cremated. For a country with 1.3 billion people, there is not enough land for traditional graves. For countries like Japan, this same law exists. In the U.S., there are many options of burial. This may sound like a bizarre example, but with a high population, norms and customs are often bent out of pragmatism. Many in the West criticize China for her one-child policy, but they have no idea what constraints the country is confronted with given the population size.
At the grave site, it really felt the whole city was there. People constantly streaming in to pay their respect. Those finished are streaming out. The hills where many of the graves are are dotted with people. Pockets of smoke rise up into the sky where-ever firecrackers went off. This qingming festival in Guilin was in fact festive.
Guilin is a beautiful place. If an option, I might elect to have it my final resting place. Too bad it was a overcast day. Otherwise I’d show a wider angle shot with blue sky and other limestone hills in the surrounding.
Perhaps the weather will cooperate in the next few days while I am here. Guilin has incredible landscapes, and I don’t want to show them unless with blue skies and white clouds. Stay tuned.