Tag Archives: Taiwanese

Qing Ming Jie (Tomb-Sweeping Festival)

Context:

B is a 17 year old Taiwanese-American high school student who is from Northern California.

This happened online through a zoom call after I reached out to them about sharing any folklore that they may have. For more context, their grandfather had recently passed away and they had gone to visit his grave recently for the holiday described below. 

Text: 

B: The thing is just known as Qing Ming Jie, otherwise known as the Qing Ming Festival. And in English it kinda just means like… tomb sweeping day. And it’s a Chinese tradition, I’m Taiwanese but we hold a lot of the same traditions as China. But basically, during this festival or Qing Ming Jie, you clean your ancestor’s tombs. I think it’s pretty well known but like Asian cultures are very big on familiy and honor and like respecting the dead like especially your ancestors. So this is like a part of that and it’s basically like the most important thing for like, one of the most important things about honoring your an cestors. You clean their tombs and then like make offerings to them, like give them food typically. You can also, we don’t do this here because I’m not in Taiwan right now, but in American we do it in an easier way. But I know you can also, it’s kinda like also a festival, Qi Ming Festival-

Me: Yeah

B: So I know you can also fly like kites. I know flying kites is pretty popular. Americans don’t do that I realize. I thought Americans flew kites but they don’t.. Or at least not commonly. Basically you just eat food and honor the dead. It’s just very… respect.

Me: Do you guys like, because I know when I visited my Grandpa’s grave when I was in China, it wasn’t on Qing Ming Je, because it was just when I was visiting, but we like burnt the offerings? At least some of them.

B: Yeah. So like for us, you can visit the grave anytime, it doesn’t have to be on Qing Ming Jie, but everyone or most people do go on that specific day because it’s special. My mom goes every sunday or so, obviously because its her father so she goes to see him. But all of us went on Qing Ming Jie, to like honor the specific day. And for offerings, we burn the paper that we make. I don’t know if thats specific, I think it might be specifically buddhist.

Me: is it like, I know I burnt like paper money?

B: Yeah, paper money but we also like fold origami paper like.. You know how gold nugget dumpling things? Those are like specifically for the Buddha. I mean not just Buddha but also just money, currency whatever. But it’s a very specific paper that we have to buy that’s like a specific material thats like very thin and like in the middle has fake gold or fake silver. And we fold it into the shape, its really easily to fold, or at least for me because I’ve had to fold so many. But at the grave we just burn all of it so they can use it in the afterlife and stay rich. So we fold like a lot of many so our grandpa can spend to his liking.

Me: I remember burning the money because we bought it at like the graveyard place because they had a stand for it. But I think it’s also like in China they’re probably more likely to have it because more people are doing it.

B: Yeah over here, we don’t have that. On Qing Ming Jie specifically they had like Buddhist stands, they didn’t sell paper but they sell flowers. Which is fair because the place he was buried is not for Asians, it’s majority asians, but its just flowers being sold there. 

Reflection: 

Qing Ming Jie is a holiday that embodies the values of Chinese traditions of respecting your elders and honoring your ancestors who came before you. While the informat is Buddhist and therefore had specific traditions that tie their religion and the holiday together, these rituals that are conducted on Qing Ming Jie are a common practice in order to honor our ancestors who helped us. This also brings up how many Eastern cultures like China and Taiwan are primarily focused on the past because of its impact on the future and the present. While I have never explicitly celebrated Qing Ming Jie, it was interesting to see the connection between my experiences visiting my Grandfather’s grave in China and the informant visiting their grandfather’s grave for this particular holiday in the US. The festival is one that is celebrated in order to show respect for your ancestors by cleaning up the tomb leaving offerings that the person enjoyed in the living for them to enjoy in the afterlife. Paper money and incense are also often burned together in order to reach the heavens for the person to use in the afterlife. 

Meredith, Anne. “What Is Qingming Festival and How Is It Observed?: Tomb Sweeping Day.” CLI, Chinese Language Institute, 1 Apr. 2022, https://studycli.org/chinese-holidays/qingming-festival/.

Yusheng

Description: It is the tossing of fish salad done during the New Years. People would circle around with chopsticks in hand. Then they would throw the salad as high as they are able, the higher meaning better fortune for the next year and having your wishes come true. The fish is the most important part due to the pun of the Chinese word for fish sounding like the word for abundance.

Background: It is something commonly done within her household. I was able to observe this ritual when we did it with a group of friends.

Procedure:

The salad is prepared with sauces, assorted vegetables and most importantly fish. The dish will then be presented on a table where people would gather. Each participant will be equipped with a pair of chopsticks. When the ritual begins, each participant will toss the contents as high as they can while saying their wishes. The duration of the ritual varies. At the end, the salad is consumed like a normal meal.

My thoughts:

In terms of cuisine, the salad is delicious. While the tossing does tend to make a mess, the sense of community and energy it brings is well worth it. There are many elements of this tradition that I believe are very neat. One thing is the origin of the tradition. It is mainly practiced by people who are ethnically Chinese living in Singapore or Malaysian. Most of the wordplay originated from the Chinese language, the fish signifying abundance is well known to any one who is Chinese. This tradition creates a branching and unique identity that separates itself from the traditions of the mainland and Taiwan. Food is commonly seen as something that brings people together; sharing food is often a bonding experience especially with home made cuisine. The community aspect is especially true for those in Malaysia, where ethnically Chinese people are part of the minority.

Ghost Month

Description: A month dedicated to ghosts as they come to the land of the living and wander the streets. The ghosts would stay starting from the first day of the seventh month of the Lunar Calendar. During this time, people would leave food and other object offerings to the hungry ghosts.

Background: As the informant lived in Taiwan, the ghosts month traditions are commonly seen every year.

Transcript:

BL: So there is a month we do in Taiwan, it’s hard to miss. It’s called the month of ghosts or something like that. It’s the month when ghosts come out, so people have to leave stuff outside their house to give the ghosts. So you see stuff like food or clothes and stuff. Sometimes people would also put baby shoes outside. It kind of has a creepy vibe when it’s the middle of the night and there is all this stuff outside people’s doors.

Me: When is the month?

BL: It follows the Lunar calendar so it starts at around the first day of the seventh month. People also put incense and stuff like that too.

My thoughts:

The first thing I thought of were other holidays that celebrate the dead. Halloween and Dias de los Muertos come to mind. As the dead, such as ancestors and dead family members, are very prevalent throughout many Asian traditions, it isn’t shocking to see that Taiwan has an entire month dedicated to appeasing the ghosts. Personally, I hope that ghosts exist as it shows that we will have an afterlife. Though the food and offerings obviously don’t go to the ghosts, I think it is the thought that counts. It’s a tradition that makes people remember those who have passed away.

Don’t Turn Around at Night

Description: There is a saying that you should not turn around when you are walking at night, if you do, it becomes easier for ghosts to attack you.

Background: The informant is told this by her parents.

Transcript:

BL: When you walk at night, you can’t turn your neck around. Because there are two lights on your shoulders and they scare the ghosts away. If you turn your neck around, the light disappears and then you would be unprotected. So the ghosts will come and get you. I honestly don’t believe it but I hear about it a lot.

Me: Where did you hear it from?

BL: My parents. I think it’s from Singapore. Singapore superstitions are weird.

My thoughts:

It’s scary enough to turn around at night without any superstitions but this thing multiplies upon that fear. Looking at many other folklore, ghosts are always most active at night. This is likely due to the fact that vision is limited and anyone can become very vulnerable or see things like ghosts that may or may not be real. Also, this tale might be a way for people to avoid trouble such as becoming a witness to illegal activity. Of course, I wouldn’t believe in something like this, but it will be hard to not think about it.

QingMing Festival

Description: It is a Taiwanese holiday where people would visit the graves of their ancestors and loved ones. 

Background: It was considered a national holiday in Taiwan, where she lived.

Transcript:

BL: So there is a holiday in Taiwan called QingMingJie or QingMing Festival, some people call it Tomb-Sweeping day. It’s when we go to family burial grounds and we clean and decorate the graves and stuff.

Me: And it’s something you do every year.

BL: Yeah, it’s to honor and remember our ancestors and family. People also put stuff in front of the graves too, like food and flowers. Some people would also say prayers to the dead people. Oh we also burn paper, like burning paper money, we write things that we want our ancestors to have in the afterlife and burn the paper.

Me: I think my family does something similar.

BL: Yeah, but I think it’s more recognized in Taiwan because China used to not allow it. Like the cultural revolution and all that stuff.

My thoughts:

As said previously, the holiday was banned in China during the cultural revolution. I have heard about the holiday and participated in a few occasions. But I think this is a strong point of identity for Taiwan because of the banning of the festival, it is for this reason that it is a national holiday in Taiwan while it is a simple tradition in the mainland. Of course, the celebration and honoring of one’s ancestors is something that is consistently prevalent in Chinese and General East Asian culture. The main reason being the celebration of legacy and the immortality of the lineage. Someone is alive as long their ideas are passed on.