Born and raised in Malaysia, Mazlan is proud of his Malaysian and Asian heritage. He likes to write about its culture and current issues.
What Is the Qingming Festival?
Qingming, also known as Tomb Sweeping Day or Ancestors Day, is a festival where the Chinese visit and tend to the graves of loved ones. At the gravesites, families pray and make offerings to the departed with foods, fruits, tea or wine, joss papers, and other accessories such as paper money. In a way, this festival is equivalent to All Souls Day.
Quingming normally happens on 5 April. However, the celebration typically starts 10 days before and continues for 10 more days after this date.
Qingming Festival in China and Around the World
The Qingming festival is a public holiday in Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macau, and only recently in mainland China. In my country, Malaysia, and our neighboring countries of Singapore, Indonesia, Thailand, and the Philippines, Qingming is not a public holiday.
Despite this, most Chinese communities diligently observe this tradition and take leave from work to attend to these rites. Some will visit their ancestors' gravesites on the weekends, but these are normally the busiest times and traffic can be bad.
For Chinese expatriates who have migrated to other countries or are working/studying overseas, this festival gives them a good excuse to return home and celebrate Qingming with the rest of their family members.
This, however, can sometimes be difficult and challenging and many cannot make it to Qingming festival.
Qingming Festival Is Now Online
For Chinese people who are abroad or who are otherwise unable to visit their ancestors' graves, the world wide web now allows them to make virtual offerings.
Some have set up an account and dedicated a Facebook page to their loved ones. Besides having a profile of the departed, the page will also inform other family members, relatives, and friends of any coming and future prayer dates.
Online Memorial Websites
As these online alternatives are now slowly becoming more acceptable, many Chinese are turning these religious rites to be more accessible and reachable to all the family members, relatives, and friends, wherever they are in this world.
Certain family members have turned to video uploads such as YouTube to keep the memories of loved ones alive. Most will carefully select the right music, words, and photos to immortalize the departed.
What Say the Traditionalists?
Traditionalists are not happy with all these new modern developments in Qingming observances. They say these acts will taint the Chinese tradition and the very act of being physically at the cemeteries or columbariums, tending and cleaning the graves whilst doing prayer and the offerings, and other religious rites.
Qingming Festival Response From the Tech Savvy
Tech-savvy Chinese, typically those in the younger generation, argue that the spirit of the Qingming festival is to remember the departed. So irrespective of how you do the rites, going online is acceptable.
They will further argue that this is the greener approach with no carbon impact. Otherwise, with thousands or even millions of overseas Chinese flying and driving to the cemeteries, the carbon footprint and impact will be horrendous!
There's also the chance of getting viewers to give responses—leaving comments and opinions. Hence, their final conclusion is that going online is a more meaningful homage to the ancestors during the Qingming festival.
Despite all these arguments, using cyberspace to pay homage to their loved ones during the Qingming festival is now gaining acceptance. In some countries such as China and Hong Kong, entrepreneurs are taking advantage of this popularity to offer dedicated online memorial websites. Via these websites, family members, relatives, and friends can perform online offerings to the departed.
Once they enter the website, they can choose the many offering items supplied by the site. Members have the option of laying food, fruits or flowers, and even light candles at this online memorial. Members can also create and upload photos and videos.
How Will Qingming Be Celebrated in the Future?
Nowadays, the Chinese are buried in a modern, well-kept memorial park. Family members will pay monthly maintenance fees to ensure a clean and well-kept burial plot. There are also those who opted to be cremated and the ashes kept in columbariums.
So some may argue if there's a need to visit the cemeteries at all. They think that making online offerings will be the better choice. With the younger generation aping the Western cultures, the traditional way of practicing filial piety, which is the foundation of Chinese culture and tradition, may have difficulty in finding many takers.
So how will the Qingming festival be celebrated in the future? Tough question. My guess is that it will most probably go in the direction of cyberspace.
What say you?
© 2012 Mazlan A