This is a belief prevailing among small towns and villages throughout China. I heard this belief from my friend Sue, who finished her high school in Hangzhou City and went back to her hometown village in Huzhou several times a year to visit her grandparents and old relatives there. Sue’s village has a 100-year history. Villagers there believe there are ghosts existing in the world, and they have special understanding of ancestor ghost and have special rituals to hold funerals. This is what Sue told me:
“From what my father told me, every time an aged villager died, after his or her funeral, there was a tradition that offsprings of the dead had to participate into a race in his hometown. This tradition passed down from the generation my grandpa lived in.
The process of Chinese funerals has changed a lot in past years. In my father’s generation, the dead body would be put into the coffin and covered by his or her off springs’ quilts. Every son or daughter of the dead should provide one quilt at least. Then, friends and relatives who were holding the funeral came to pray and bow to the dead, for showing their respects to the dead before people buried the coffin.
After everybody bowed to the dead, offsprings would take quilts out of the coffin and bury the coffin respectively and solemnly. Then descendants of the dead would carry their own quilts and start to run while competing with each other. The first person who reached his home was regarded as the one who would be blessed most by his dead ancestor in the future, because they believed that they carried their dead ancestor home first. Good fortune would come to that family.”
Sue is from a town in Huzhou where is in the eastern part of China. I think this tradition not only dominates in Huzhou, but also in my father’s hometown, Zhuji. Although the ritual of the funeral varies a bit, the main belief is the same. The belief is that the spirit of the dead ancestor will never go away even his body is cremated. The ancestor’s spirit will keep watching, blessing, protecting and bringing good fortune to his offspring. After my grandfather passed away, every time the Tomb Sweeping Festival comes, my father will take the whole family go back to his hometown and visit my grandfather’s grave and pay respect to him. My father always murmurs in front of the grave to ask the spirit of my grandpa to take care of us.