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.
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-
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.
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/.