清明 – Qingming and Easter
This year (April 5, 2015), 清明 – Qingming (Tomb-Sweeping Day), coincided with Easter Sunday.
According to Wikipedia, translated as “pure brightness,” 清明 – Qingming is celebrated on the first day of the fifth solar term of the traditional Chinese lunisolar calendar. This makes it the 15th day after the Spring Equinox, either April 4th or 5th any given year.
Although celebrated as a national holiday in China, 清明 – Qingming has religious origins, related to ancestor worship, the only native religion to China. All other religions in China, including, Buddhism, Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, were imported from outside of China. (Confucianism and Taoism originated in China but are philosophies rather than religions.)
清明 – Qingming rituals include cleaning the gravesite, decorating the tombstone with fresh flowers, lighting incense, burning imitation paper money, which is for the deceased to use in the afterlife, and paying respects through bowing three times.
Recently, it has become popular to burn a wide variety of consumer goods like paper imitation iPhones, designer handbags, houses and sports cars. In some instances food is offered to the spirit of the deceased. The families will eat a picnic at the graveside with their ancestors, set off firecrackers to ward against evil sprits and alert the ancestors of their respectful presence.
The responsibility of cleaning the tomb falls to the eldest son (or family member), and is most likely to include only offerings of incense, paper money and flowers.
We talked with our teachers about 清明 – Qingming. They both professed to be atheists and think that the rituals associated with the religious observance are outdated and unnecessary. Neither one of them made a visit to their ancestor’s tombs. Yet, they did acknowledge that it was a personal, preference to observe the national holiday by keeping its religious significance, and, that they knew friends who did keep these traditions with varying degrees of sincerity and belief. For them, it was just part of their culture, which was in ancient times. They thought that the present religious celebration of 清明 – Qingming was more prevalent in the rural and economically depressed areas of China.
If, however, reports are true that approximately 10 percent of China’s population are Christian, then April 5th was also celebrated as Easter Sunday throughout much of China. Several worship services were held by registered and unregistered churches, as well as ex-patriate churches for holders of foreign passports. We went to Beijing International Christian Fellowship (ZGC) in the XiJiao Hotel Conference Center, Haidian District, and discovered a non-denominational church with about 70 nations represented — all foreign passport holders. We were amazed at the number of Africans who were present. The Haidian district is home to several universities and colleges, making it an international habitat for visiting scholars and teachers from other countries. The service was held in English, but this was obviously the 2nd or 3rd language of many of the leaders and participants. The majority of those attending were from Africa. The service was a rich composition of various cultures and rhythms, featuring traditional and contemporary songs and instruments.
There were three baptisms: a girl from Kenya, a girl from Samoa, and a girl from Taiwan. The service opened with the traditional Easter greeting: “He is risen! He is risen, indeed!” The pastor preached on Matthew 12:1-14, a text which is not normally used for Easter. The passage focused on freedom from religious rituals that have lost their meaning, highlighted Jesus as the Lord of the Sabbath, who is greater than religious ritual.
Several visiting African students from Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, and Ghana gave plain, simple and heart-felt testimonies, all who expressed joy in knowing the great love of the Father who sent his son, Jesus to die on the cross for our sins, but who rose again on the third day so that we might have eternal life.
清明 – Qingming (Tomb-Sweeping Day) and Easter Sunday, both on the same day. One group visits a tomb with bones. Another group visits a tomb without bones. Still another group does not visit any tomb at all. Welcome to China!