For thousands of years, the people of China have practiced various ways to honor the dead. The Chinese culture is known for its respect for the elderly and even for deceased ancestors.
During Qingming, people would traditionally clean and decorate the graves of their ancestors. They would also travel to their hometowns, to find those graves. It was a day of celebration, a day to acknowledge the coming spring and to visit with friends and family.
Part of the tradition was to make offerings to the dead, to insure their happiness in the next world. People traditionally burned money, so that their ancestors would be well off in Heaven. They would offer the dead person’s favorite food and wine to show that they were still remembered.
Qingming was acknowledged every year until 1949, when the new Communist government stopped it. The Communist regime of China was determined to bring the people forward into a more modern era, an era where the focus would be on the present and a better future.
So from 1949 until 2008, the holiday wasn’t officially recognized.
But then the Communist government decided that it would be a good idea to let people take some time off, travel to the country, and reconnect with their pasts. Now the holiday is once again celebrated widely across China.
Over the course of the past two and a half millennia, however, things have changed quite a bit. In its earliest days, the holiday was intended to honor all of the dead. The Communist regime, though, wrote this last year in a message that went out across the nation via mobile phone:
Qingming is here, filling our hearts with longing. Cherish the memory of our revolutionary martyrs. Don’t forget their heroic undertakings. Carry forward the spirit of the Chinese people. Look forward to the great rebirth of the Chinese nation.”
People still celebrate the annual tomb cleaning festival. They still go to the country to pull weeds from around the gravestones of their relatives. They still say prayers for the dead and they still greet the coming spring with a picnic.
The offerings to the dead have changed, however. People report that the ancestors are now offered things like burned iPads and even modern cars.
I guess everyone wants to make sure that the afterlife is full of all the good things we most enjoy here on earth.
Featured image via YouTube Screengrab.