Tomb Sweeping

Genre: customary lore

Category: custom/ceremony

Collection date: Apr.20th, 2022

Main piece:  

“Chinese have the tradition of visiting the tombs of their ancestors on the Qingming Festival. However, in my family, we go visit the tombs of our ancestors on almost all holidays and memorable dates, including the Spring Festival, the Dragon Boat Festival, and the anniversary of their deaths. We would adjust the scale of the ceremony according to what holiday it is. In the morning, the family would go to the market to buy food for the ceremony. Thick, fat pork belly and chicken are the mandatory items. Other items are flexible. Generally, we buy fresh, good food for the ceremony. During the ceremony, we would talk to my grandfather, who already passed away. We would talk to him about what is happening in our recent lives, wish him good luck in the afterlife, and ask for his blessing. The final one is the most important. We also need to burn incense. Three sticks per person. If someone’s not here, their direct kin needs to do the job for them. The total number of incenses needs to be right. We burn two incenses outside the door, so the departed can see where you are.”

Contextual data:

Social context:

Every family in the area has similar traditions of tomb sweeping. However, each family has a slightly different way of doing it. It is a tradition that passes on from generation to generation, and it changes slightly throughout this process. The informant’s grandmother is the one who conducts these ceremonies. In the past, it was mandatory for each family member to attend the ceremony. However, now, everyone usually goes there when they have spare time. The more formal ceremonies conducted on bigger holidays have more people attending. 

Cultural context:

The informant is a Hakka Chinese. She grew up in Shenzhen, China, and she came to the U.S. for post-secondary education.

Informant’s comment: 

“The ceremony is usually arranged by my grandmother. It is very important to her. This is a chance for a family gathering. She wants her family members to get together using this chance. This is a family tradition, a routine. I haven’t thought much about it, but it has become a necessary part of holidays. If you don’t do it, you feel there is something missing.”

My comment:

I feel that tomb sweeping is one of the more private traditions in China. The general concept is well-known, but each family has different traditions and customs