Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Tomb-Sweeping Day

There are differences and similarities between Western and Eastern culture. One thing I really enjoy of this class is it helps me explore American culture through literature. Literature as a form of art expresses culture. Since I am in charge of blogging this week, I decide to use this platform to introduce some Chinese culture that could be related to what we have been discussing. Few weeks ago, we talked about “Thanatopsis” by Bryant. In this poem, Bryant mentions returning to nature after death. Also, Easter is approaching along with the nice weather outside. In China, we also have a traditional holiday has a relation to that- the Tomb- Sweeping Day aka Qing Ming festival.

Tomb Sweeping Day, as one of the few traditional Chinese holidays that is celebrated two weeks after the vernal equinox, typically falling on April 4, 5, or 6. It is a festival for holding memorial ceremony for people’s lost relatives and ancestors. It is a time to express one's grief and sorrow for their loss, a time to celebrate the rebirth of nature, while marking the beginning of the planting season and other outdoor activities. At this time, spring returns and dominates the earth again. The feel of growing life is in the air, with sap ascending in trees and buds bursting. And the willow branches inserted on each gate add vigor and vitality to the surroundings.

In ancient times, people celebrated Tomb Sweeping Day with dancing, singing, picnics, and kite flying. Kites can come in all kinds of shapes, sizes, and colors. People plant willows in front of their door to celebrate the renewing nature of spring. With the passing of time, this celebration of life became a day to the honor past ancestors. Following folk religion, Chinese people believe that the spirits of deceased ancestors bless their family.
Sacrificial offerings make them happy, and the family would prosper through good harvests and more children from such bless.

Today, Chinese visit their family graves at Qing Ming to weed out rank grass that has grown and swept away dust, and then place bland food by the tombs. One of the most traditional customs is that people kowtow in front of the graves to express respect and cherished memory of their ancestors. After that, people regularly provide sacrificial offerings, censers and burning incense at tables in their homes so as to expedite the transfer of nutritious elements to the ancestors and bring good luck.

Along with these traditions, there are also many poems about this special festival. One of them is called Qing Ming by Du Mu, a famous poet in China.

Qing Ming

Du Mu (Tang Dynasty: 803-852 AD)

It drizzles thick and fast on the Mourning Day,

The mourner travels with his heart lost in dismay.

When asked for a wineshop to kill his gloomy time,

A cowboy points at Almond Hamlet far away.

Translated by: Weixiong Wu


  1. Thanks for providing some cultural background information! I think these customs are really interesting, especially because they provide a new perspective on things. I kind of wish we had a time during the year like Tomb Sweeping Day to remember loved ones. We have funerals and all, but there is no specific day of every year to honor the dead. I think it sounds like a nice tradition, especially in ancient times when they flew kites and had festivals. Those are just my thoughts.

  2. Wow this is an awesome tradition! I can definitely see why this time of year would be a time to remember those who have passed away. While life is in the air as the weather begins to change and the birds return from the south you can't get May flowers without April showers. The limbo period between Winter and Spring is an awkward and at times frustrating and depressing time. I can see no better time to pause and give thanks for life while remembering the dead. The idea of the spring festival (and most likely a bit of subliminal messaging from the current background of the blog)reminds me of the cherry blossom festival. The celebration to me is one of new life and beginnings, so giving time to respect the dead seems quite appropriate. On top of that "spring cleaning" is a popular American tradition that seems to echo the notion of "tomb sweeping".

  3. I agree with Emily S, Lucy. This is an informative blog post. Thank you for it.

    As always, let me post some links to some Western springtime traditions.

    First, there's this, which was famously placed front and center in this short story by this guy we all know and love.

    Also, as far as spring and April go, check out this famous poem by this famous American expatriate poet. Published in 1922, The Waste Land is about, among other things, reviving a world that is dead. Hence the springtime setting at the start. It's also relevant for college students because April is the month when all of you are scrambling to write your research papers while cramming for final exams. The cruelest month indeed!