Tomb Sweeping Day: Annual Family Gravesite Ritual

Nationality: American / Taiwanese
Language(s) spoken: Chinese Mandarin, English
Age: 19
Occupation: Student
Residence: Los Angeles, CA / Taipei, Taiwan


Every year, MC and their family go to visit their paternal grandfather’s grave, usually on his birthday and on a holiday in April called Qing ming jie. The whole family goes, including MC, their parents, their siblings, their grandma, their cousins, etc. First, the family enters a main building, where there’s a plaque with their grandpa’s name and statues of the gods. The family pays their respects to both, praying for peace and protection. They light incense and leave offerings, sometimes for the gods and sometimes for the family members. There are also tables where you can leave flowers. Then, they go up a mountain to visit the gravesite. It’s located in a building eventually meant to hold the remains of everyone in their family. Inside, they clean the grave of MC’s grandpa, pray, make offerings, and leave fruit, wine, and flowers, as well as burn incense. Then, they sit together at a pavilion, talk, and eat food. After that, they read out a poetic prayer three times in front of a pot that represents the earth god. Then they go speak to their grandpa in their head, sharing whatever they like, and ask them for protection and good fortune.


MC has been participating in this tradition for as long as they can remember. For them, it’s not extremely sad, as they never knew their grandpa. It is a bit sad, though, because they know their dad and grandma are really sad during this tradition. But it’s also something to look forward to. MC gets to enjoy nice food and spend time with their cousins, which is fun. They think it’s really cool that they get to connect with their grandpa even though they never met him. They described the offerings for their grandpa as a kind of care package for him; he can get those things even in the afterlife.


This family (and cultural) tradition reminds me of Valk’s article “Ghostly Possession and Real Estate,” especially its description of what ghosts mean to people. In it, he talks about how adults like “friendly ghost” stories in which people in the afterlife can help those still alive or connect with them in some way. MC’s family tradition isn’t necessarily about ghosts, but it undoubtedly represents a desire to connect with those who have passed on. By offering up food, wine, and flowers to their deceased relative, MC’s family shows their belief that those no longer alive can still interact with them and their lives. This cultural tradition also represents a value of respect for the dead. By visiting their relative, paying their respects, and cleaning his grave multiple times a year, MC’s family shows that they still love and care for MC’s grandpa, even though he’s no longer with them. Finally, this tradition shows an immense value of family. The fact that everyone in MC’s family is buried in the same gravesite house shows that they want to be together even after death, and the way that their deceased grandfather brings together all alive family members further demonstrates dedication to staying close. Overall, this tradition represents a belief in the spirit world, as well as strong family ties.