Monday, March 22, 2010

Ching Ming: Tomb Sweeping Day

It is almost upon us again... With spring comes Ching Ming; Grave Sweeping Day in the Chinese cultural tradition. Usually falling in early April, Ching Ming is a time when families gather, often very early in the morning, and travel to the graves of their ancestors to honor and remember them.
chinese ceremony memorial art
Scrubbing an ancestor's grave stone on Ching Ming. Photo from the wonderful blog,

The graves are swept and cleaned, incense and paper objects are burned, and food and flowers are offered to the dead. The belief is that the food and paper objects are transported and transformed to meet the continuing needs of departed loved ones.

chinese ceremony death

Objects such as this paper laptop computer are burned in this world and can be used by grandfather in the next.

chinese ceremony memorial stone

In honoring our ancestors with gifts of food and flowers, we demonstrate that they are still important to us, just as we hope that our children will, in turn, remember us.

Chinese ceremony death

This custom may seem to be old fashioned superstition, and I'm sure that more than a few participants in these rituals have doubts about the burnt objects passing on to their ancestors. Similarly, some participants at Christian rituals may doubt the transformation of bread and wine into the body and blood of Jesus Christ. Most, I'm sure, believe figuratively if not literally.
Chinese ritual death ceremony

While the efficacy of these rituals may be debatable, their importance and relevance is clear to see. Gathering to honor and remember ancestors is strengthening to the family unit, a positive step through grief, and a very precious opportunity to continue a relationship, whether grandmother actually gets any of the dumplings or not.

If we think that rituals like this are wasteful or naive, we should look again at how much we miss out by ending our conversations and expressions of love with our own departed.

dying Chinese ritual ceremony funeral

The loved ones we remember are people just like we are. Their form and needs may have changed to nothing, or something we cannot begin to comprehend, but for us, in our memories, they are still Ahmah, or Granny. They still like licorice, or noodles. They still have a sparkle in their eyes, and maybe talk funny when their dentures slip. These are the things we remember and celebrate and love. So it makes emotional sense for us to honor them in a way that reminds us of them. They may not need it, but we do.


Rainey J. Dillon said...

Hi there
great post.Yes it always irks me when a self profesed Catholic has no idea about transubstantiation-& believe that the turning of bread into blood and bread into body is symbolic when they're supposed to know & believe that it's a happening fact! I think the church underplay it to be honest-they just don't want to 'go there' haha.
Have you heard that the first Graveyard Musuem (in Europe)has opened up here in Dublin? Yep in Glasnevin Cemetery about two weeks ago.Very interesting indeed.
Giveaway on my bloggy btw
Rainey :)

Dirgesinger said...

That is such a lovely tradition, and meaningful...though I am living in Hungary, I am always including Mexican and kind of Chinese traditions when honouring the dead. These wonderful rituals I always believe in and I would never doubt their "efficiency" and meaning...

Unknown said...

My wife is Chinese, and several times we've burnt reconstructed paper shoes, and clothes at her Mother's grave. A favourite is Hell bank money, she must have sent up millions, I've always thought that if any of this were true the inflation rate must be so high that the smallest item would cost a shed load.

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