Qingming (清明) – Sweeping and Cleaning the Tombs of the ‘Chan’ (陳) Ancestors! (6.4.2023)

Generally speaking, there are two times in the year (around six months apart) when people in China – and throughout the Chinese diaspora – go to the graves of the ancestors to a) clean and tidy (Qingming [清明] Festival in the Spring) and b) feed and cloth – also known as the ‘Double Nine’ (Chongyang [重陽] Festival – so-called because it occurs on the ‘ninth day of the ninth month’ in the Autumn)! What actually happens on these occasions can vary considerably from one Chinese ethnic group to the next, from one name clan to the next and from one family to the next!

Upholding Tradition is a ‘Revolutionary’ Act!

Although I am not an expert in this, I understand that some Japanese and Korean people might also follow these traditions. We clean the graves of leaves, sticks, weeds, grass and other debris whilst redistributing the gravel. We also clean and polish the marble framework of the grave stone and surroundings – removing dirt and creating a shine! We then place fresh flowers around the grave, light incense sticks and place glasses of spirit alcohol and often a lit cigarette.

The old belief is a little contradictory to the Western mind but makes perfect sense to the Chinese mind! The ancestors are all dead and their spirits reside in the divine sky! The smoke from the incense sticks rises up and lets them know that we are tending their graves! We burn paper (pretend) money – which magically reappears in a divine sky bank account for them to use, and they enjoy the drink and the cigarette! If we haem food – we lay this on the grave as an offering (before taking it home and eating it ourselves) – or we burn paper clothing and food so as to refurbish their supply in the sky (although much of this refurbishing activity is performed in the Autumn)! The Ancestors are also believed to have been ‘reborn’ somewhere else (either on Earth or in a different dimension) – whilst we are also aware that they are ‘dead’ and their physical remains are either lying in the ground – or are in a cremation urn! None of these contradictions matter to the Chinese mind and are all viewed as happening simulraneously and without contradiction!

Due to the Covid-19 pandemic – the graves of our Chinese Ancestors have not been cleaned since before 2019! I suspect this because we have never before seen the graves in such a poor state of preservation before (myself and Gee hae been carrying-out this duty for about three decades! There are various parts of our Chinese family (different branches) living in Sutton and usually at least one group carries-out the cleaning – but the fear of Covid-19 has kept people away!

Burning the Paper Money”

In Mainland China it has been the case that the Ancestors must be respected ‘from a distance’ and in the safety of one’s home! This has worked well as an adaptation – but the material reality is that the tombs that exist in reality have suffered terribly from this neglect! This is not a problem – as we turned-up today to rectify this matter! By cleaning these graves – we are also cleaning the graves of ALL our Ancestors (regardless or origin) wherever their graves or remains may be in the world! Sometimes, if the Old Ways are followed in a new way – then the upholding of tradition (purged of reaction) becomes a Revolutionary Act!