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Photo of the Day: Qingming (Tomb Sweeping) Festival is this Week

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This week’s photo theme is, well, it’s death. Not because we’re trying to be overly morbid, but because Thursday 5 April is Qingming Festival in China, a day where families traditionally tend to the graves of their ancestors and an occasion often referred to as “Tomb Sweeping Day”.

So let’s talk a little about Qingming — its origins and what happens these days.

Qingming is the traditional Chinese festival for honoring the dead, when people would tend to the gravesite of their deceased relatives — hence “Tomb Sweeping Festival”, even though the Chinese name translates literally as “Pure and Bright” Festival.

The festival was largely suppressed during the Cultural Revolution, but has been officially rehabilitated in recent years and was made a public holiday in 2008. The ritual of visiting burial grounds for Qingming is therefore still honored today, with people heading out to graveyards (on the edge of most cities) or to large family tombs (often on hillsides in rural areas). In some big cities, such as Shanghai, the sheer amount of traffic heading to the suburban graveyards can cause huge tailbacks.

Once there, “Tomb Sweepers” will usually make various offerings, and burn joss sticks or other paper items. That’s what the guy in the photo above is selling — or would be if he was awake — along with a whole host of paper offerings that are usually burnt during the funeral process in the hopes they’ll help ease loved ones’ passage into the afterlife. Traditionally this was (fake) paper money, but these days you can mark the passing of your beloved baller with things such as paper whisky and wine:

Beauty products, cigarettes, phones, and snazzy pyjamas:

Or home entertainment systems, mahjong sets, seafood selections, and jewelry:

You can also see a “BMW” and a house in that picture up top.

Traditionally on Qingming, people will hang willow branches over their doors to ward away evil spirits and, as with most Chinese festivals, there’s also a food and drink element: “Tomb Sweeping Day” sees people snack on green glutinous rice balls known as qingtuan and it’s also a crucial period for tea production in China.

Every Day Matters: Rain, Tomb Sweeping, and Tea

Jake Newby
Jake Newby is a Shanghai-based writer and editor with more than a decade's experience living and working in China. Previously managing editor of Time Out Shanghai, he's also written for publications such as South China Morning Post and the Financial Times.

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