Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Bring Out Your Dead- In Honor of Grave Sweeping Day

Tomorrow is Ching Ming Festival in Hong Kong. A lovely little holiday that happens twice a year *correction, grave sweeping happens twice a year, the other holiday is called Chuen Yuen. Thanks Miko!* so that you can sweep the graves of the dead in your family, pay your respects, have a picnic in a graveyard and spend some time talking memories of people who have left our world for a better one. It is in honor of Ching Ming Festival that I make this post. It's not a flashy festival and is often overshadowed by close holidays to it. (Like this year with Easter.) It doesn't have any commercial Hallmark cards with it. (Can you imagine?) Ching Ming literally means "Clear Brightness". It's important to honor what has died in the past so that we can look upon everything that is being born new with clear eyes. Pretty ideas, right?

According to Feng Shui principles the graveyards must be well kept and have certain items. Such as: something red, a water element close to it, better feng shui for the dead is found away from noise, etc. You can find more details about the feng shui principles of grave yards in china online. I learned a lot by just googling it. But if someone tells you that you have a ghost in your vagina, RUN!!!!!

A Chinese Graveyard

At Ching Ming you are supposed to do the following practices in order to make sure that your ancestors are getting proper treatment in heaven. I'm not sure how all of these practices fit within the Buddhist religion. If anyone knows I would love to know the religious reasons behind the festival.
Flowers are placed on the graves like in almost all cultures, Chrysanthemums are the traditional funeral flower for Chinese Culture. Don't give them to people as gifts especially white ones. 

Traditionally you are supposed to eat a cold whole chicken on Ching Ming because in ancient times a live rooster was slaughtered by the tomb for sacrifice and then eaten in honor of the ancestor. Part of the rooster is left for spirit of the ancestor to eat. The eating appears as green mold when the food rots. You can throw it out in 7 days. Although, in most modern grave yards the keepers of the cemeteries will normally throw it out before the 7 day period is up due to sanitation problems. Food must be cold on Ching Ming traditionally as you are not allowed to light a fire for cooking as the one you are using is for burning offerings. (I think this one is a little outdated now that we have microwaves and toaster ovens. I can burn my offerings and pop popcorn at the same time thanks to Kenmore!)
Ching Ming Food Offering.

Joss Paper Accessories and Hell Money are also burnt and offered to the ancestors. By burning the objects you give the object to your ancestor in heaven. Burn a paper doll and your dead baby sister will get a Barbie in heaven, etc. Money is the more traditional one. You also can do Joss Paper postings on the wall of the tombs with symbols of blessings for the ancestors. You can sometimes see these on the walls outside of Man Mo temple where ladies have pasted them up when they are praying for someone. They are taken down quickly by the sanitation people because of laws about posting bills but they are actually quite beautiful.
Shrine and Joss Paper Burner. You burn all your offerings in the red bucket.

Green Tea is supposed to be harvested around Ching Ming. It is when the best tea is made apparently. If your tea was picked the week before Ching Ming it will have a higher price tag because of the prestige. The week after Ching Ming will have a high price tag as well but not as high as before as some of the spirits may have gotten into the tea leaves.

Buses in Hong Kong have special routes on Ching Ming to hit the graveyards more frequently. Some graveyards in Hong Kong, especially in the New Territories are incredibly difficult to get to. You can find out more about special bus routes from the City Bus Website. I asked some of my students about Ching Ming and what they do.

The response:
"Walk. Eat. Sit around and get bored...."
"My mom makes me cut grass with scissors."
"Burn stuff! It's so much fun!"
That's the future generation of Hong Kong.... I'm so proud! *sarcasm*


  1. I had to read this post based on the Monty Python reference in the title. Enjoyed it too. Thanks for adding your students responses.

    1. Any excuse for a Monty Python reference is a good excuse...