Qingming is not only for tomb sweeping, but also represents a change in weather, and a change in the way we look at things. A brighter view is key during this important festival.
Qingming is in fact the fifth solar term of the year and occurs in the middle of spring. The days become warmer and everything grows quickly.
Literally, “Qingming” means “pure and bright,” denoting the air which is pure and clean, and the philosophy that things are prosperous and the view is bright. After a long and cold winter, it’s time to head out to enjoy nature, while paying respects to ancestors and ensuring that their places of rest are durable enough for the rainy season.
The theory encompasses the idea that your achievements in this life are not solely because of your ability and luck, but also, your ancestors’ too.
Most people think that tomb sweeping is out of filial piety, but it’s a little bit more complicated. In Taoism, a person’s fate is very much decided by his/her ancestors’ conduct.If your deceased ones carried out good deeds when they were alive, you reap the benefits as a result, and vice versa. Therefore, the theory encompasses the idea that your achievements in this life are not solely because of your ability and luck, but also, your ancestors’ too. According to this logic, if you consider your life as a good one, you should behave well and act accordingly, thank your great grandparents and burn plenty of paper money, iPhones, villas and servants for them. If you want to have a good life, you should do the same and ask for their blessing.
Taoism believes that when people die, their souls leave the rotten body and wait for the next life. The waiting time could be very short, or even decades. During this time, they wait in “hell” and only escape during Qingming and spirit festivals. Their offspring’s worship can help shorten this process. With this in mind, if you don’t want your dead parents to come back and haunt you, you’d better pick a good fengshui location and take good care of their tombs!
On the other hand, tomb sweeping has a deeper meaning other than this superficial and functional one. According to Confucius, the true meaning of offering sacrifices to gods or ancestors, is to understand moderation and reverence, with the philosophy that humans should not do “whatever they want.” In front of ancestors, one should be humble and respectful. It is also the chance to report your conduct. Do you have good manners? Do you live by a moral compass? Have you contributed to your family or clan? Can you face your ancestors without any guilt? Qingming is a time to question ourselves.
Specifically in Dongguan, tomb sweeping is called “gua zhi”(挂纸), meaning “place paper” because joss paper is replenished on top of the “gold pagoda.” A pagoda is a clay architectural structure storing ancestors’ bones. Ten years after a body is buried, descendants open the coffin and pick out what’s left of the remains and place them in a pagoda, coined as a “gold pagoda” and the bones are therefore “gold.” BBQ pork, a whole cooked chicken, fruits, tea and baijiu are commonly offered during the ceremony.
In line with the idea that spirits are wandering the mortal world, branches of willow are inserted or fastened to doors to drive away evil spirits during this time. Traditionally, on the day of the festival, women of Dongguan will visit markets and buy fans made from oil paper and bamboo skin, known as Qingming fans. When they return home, upon the doorstep, they fan away some air from the house to repel any bad luck.
Huangqi Mountain is the most popular “ta qing” (踏青, treading on the greenery) destination for Guancheng people. They enjoy lots of outdoor activities such as kite flying, playing cu jü (Chinese soccer) and jian zi (shuttlecock game), swings and picnics. Huangqi Mountain used to host an area of “yi zhong” (义冢), burial ground for the destitute. In the old times, yi zhong was set up to rest those who died in disasters and warfare. So, if people lost their family and couldn’t find their bodies, they went to worship them in such a place. Nowadays, only one yi zhong remains in Dongguan, beside the Guanyin Buddhist Temple.
With Qingming Festival approaching, look out for many Chinese undergoing various activities, to commemorate this special and unique time of celebration.