By: Daniel Otero
In a land that people avoid speaking of the dead, and therefore, people which morbidly relive and enthrall themselves in remembering the dead relatives… Here is when I refer to Qingming (Tomb Sweeping Day) as one of those days or it can be compared with “Dia de los Muertos” (Mexico’s Day of the Dead on 5th May). Love ones take the time on this day here in China to clean-up, place ‘goodies’ on the tomb for the dead-love one enjoyed while alive! Nanjing is no exception to the rule, family light-up incenses and leave them upright to honour the dead spirits. Other people join in prayer, according to their beliefs; especially those whom are Buddhist. Members or friends sit by the tomb, cry–having a drink and talking to the spirits of those passed!
For those who are curious about the dead and Qingming it started simple enough…
There is a feeling of love and remembrance, as family members gather and travel out to the countryside; usually to the southern parts, on the outskirts of Nanjing.
Strangely enough, nobody is ever looking for the dead. The original motivation wasn’t really to see the dead–rather by mistake we took bus 155 from Metro Line 1, Xiaohang Station. After a 35 minute bus ride and looking for Niushou Mountain—it was more like: two cemeteries, one monastery and five hours later this special place was found! The beauty of this place is captivating, like entering a temple and in true solemnity it’s not hard to miss these great tomb stones. For such a sad place, it’s surprisingly beautiful! Covered in an intense light-blue and white (China blue) shinned in grey and black marble. A strange-mystic beauty and peace came down on us. Thinking it’s a way to honour and celebrate the greatness of a passing life. This is not always to relive the past and go onto deep depressions. But to keep the memories of the ancestry clearly alive! This is what life is all about… One is to respect the living and those whom are now passed ‘amongst the dead’.
Origin of “All Souls Day”
Qingming spans through 2,500 years of history, when Jie Zitue was helping Duke Wen of Jin (Wikipedia.org, 2013). When he and his servant in desperation and exiled for 16 years from their city had been going hungry! It was when Jie decided to make a soup for his master. Wen ate with gusto and furthermore, it was so good and tasty [that] he wanted to know where the meat had come from. And like all extreme things in China, Jie had cut the piece of meat from his thigh! Wen was in shock, but touched by Jie’s actions that he promised him a position in his government once his master made it back from exile and would become king. Upon their return from exile, Jie didn’t want anything to do with Wen when he was made Duke! However, Wen wanted to honour his promise and sent out men to find Jie, whom was living with his mother in the forest. His old servant didn’t want anything to do with Wen’s world. And upon refusal, Wen ordered the forest to be set afire! As the forest burnt down, Jie was killed in the process. Grief stricken and full of remorse, Wen ordered three days of mourning in his honour. In those three days, nobody could light any fires; therefore, most people had to eat their food cold. Jie’s death took place in 636 B.C.E. (Before the Common Era).
Usually, Qingming is celebrated during the beginning of April. For in that day, people will worship their ancestors and serve them cold dishes, also calling this day of remembrance, Cold Food Day. Then, after prayers and incense burning, the burning of paper gifts is part of the ceremony to the departed.
It’s a day off and however, by no means it’s considered a holiday, festival or celebration. It’s more like a Memorial Day (31st May, U.S.), something done quiet and solemnly.