Qing Ming Festival

Background of informant:

My informant LWQ is a 47 years old Chinese artist. She was born and lived in southern part of China, especially Nanjing for many years before she moved to the north, Beijing at age 36.

The conversation is in Chinese.


Main piece:

LWQ: “This is the day that we go to cemetery and pray to the ancestors. In total, there’re four day in a year that people pray to their ancestors, but each day has different name and each of them is different. In winder solstice, that day, it’s the first one. And April 4rth on the lunar Calendar, which is the one that is coming, is called QingMing Festival. Then is July half, also on the lunar Calendar, is the Festival of the Dead. And then is the New Year Eve day. These are the four. There are commons among these four days, that people burn those money made from paper, the money that is only efficient in the ghosts’ world, not our human world.”

SH: What kind of money?

LWQ: “We have a piece of paper in the shape of normal RMB, but the portrait of Mao is changed to the God in the ghost world on the paper. And also, there’re paper money in the shape of ancient Chinese copper coin, which a hole in the center. And also some in the shape of Chinese shoe-shaped gold.”

LWQ: “For the differences of the four days, I think… the most recent one, on April. 4th, we bring some green plants or flowers to the deceased family members tomb. That’s why QingMing festival is also called ‘Tomb-swiping Day’. We need to revitalize the ancestor’s tomb because spring is coming. [laugh] I remember when I was little, I followed my parents to ancestors’ tomb on the day QingMing Festival, and it’s a day to play and enjoy the warm weather for me and my other little friends. Now, I will go to my grandparents tomb on this year’s festival next week, and it is now to me a day to reunion with my family, because my brothers and my parents will be there too.”


Context of the performance:

My informant LWQ told me one day that she will travel back to her hometown recently because the QingMing Festival was coming. This conversation was done two weeks before the festival day.


My thoughts about the piece:

My informant said that the day of QingMing festival is an official holiday set by the government, so it’s a day off for everyone in China. Respecting to ancestor is always a major focus in Chinese traditional culture, and there’s a huge emphasis on family lineage and bounding between family members. However, this emphasis was neglected once around 1970s in China. Now, for the recent 20 years, the traditional focus on lineage is recollected and reemphasized. Since the festival is highlighted to the public as an official holiday, this is another example of how institution helps revitalize folklore.