Chinese likes to stick stuff together when there’s nothing to draw. It seems that Chinese cavemen found they could only get so far with characters like 火 (fire) and 山 (mountain) and even pretty obvious symbols like 下 (under) and 上 (above). So then we decide that as soon as we have a roof (宀) and a pig (豕, don’t ask me why), things are going good – we have a house – 家.
So then we have characters like 明. It looks like 日 and 月 stuck together, but these mean ‘day’ or ‘sun’ and ‘month’ or ‘moon’ (this way of doing dates makes sense when you think about it; when the cycle of the sun starts again you have a day, and when the cycle of the moon starts again you have a month. Who thought up our stupid calendar?). Putting them together supposedly means ‘bright’ – but then we come to the Chinese holiday happening this week – the 清明 (Qingming) Festival.
The ‘清’ seems to mean ‘clear’, and we think that ‘明’ means ‘bright’, so we might be forgiven for thinking that the Qingming (this Wednesday) is a spring festival of all the new, ‘bright’ things, but in fact it seems to be the exact opposite. The ‘Clear-bright’ festival is the festival of … tomb sweeping and respect to your ancestors.
Over the next few days, millions of Chinese people will visit the gravestones of their dead relatives, but this poses a problem for many. Communist rule in the mid twentieth century banned burials in the purge of the old tradition of respecting the past. In large cities, a little more than the average ‘think about the ancestors’ will be all Wednesday holds. For some rural communities, lavish gifts, incense and flowers will be poured upon the gravestones of the dead.
But after the respect to the ancestors, the festival decides that it is after all a ‘clear-bright festival’. Spring outings and kite flying are popular pastimes around this holiday, much like spring and Easter festivals here. Now, if only we had a festival around now involving death and tombs, with some sort of happy ending?
Thanks for reading! There won’t be a post for the next few weeks, but make sure to share this post online below, and subscribe on the homepage to be notified when the first post after Easter is published – ‘Fingers Crossed’, published in the week beginning April 24, 2017.