Ching Ming, Grave-Sweeping Day, observed on April 5.
The date is indicated on the Chinese calendar with the two characters: ching,
meaning pure or clean, and ming, meaning brightness. Combined together, Ching Ming means
clean and just. This date is also indicated on traditional Japanese calendars,
where their culture has a similar observance. In Korean culture, the observance
is known as Hansik.
The Ching Ming observance may have had its beginnings as the original
religion in China. Ancestor worship is the only native religion to
China. All others, including, Buddhism, Christianity, Judaism, and
Islam, were imported from outside of China. Confucianism and Taoism originated in China but are
philosophies rather than religions.
In the philosophy of Confucianism, a form of ancestor worship is incorporated
with the virtue of filial piety.
Ching Ming rituals not only include weeding of the area, cleaning of the headstone, and
replacing the wilted flowers with fresh ones, but also the lighting of incense
and burning of imitation paper money. The burning of the imitation money is for
the deceased to use in the afterlife. One year while visiting in China, one of my
uncles from Canada even purchased a paper facsimile of a pair of eyeglasses and
camera in Hong Kong to burn as part of the offerings; and an aunt in Hong Kong lit
a cigarette at the end of a twig to make as an offering.
In addition, food is laid out in front of the headstone as an offering to the
spirits of the deceased. The food may include a steamed whole chicken (including
the head, which is later twisted off), hard boiled eggs cut in half lengthwise with
shell attached, sliced barbecued pork (cha shiu), cut roast pork with crunchy skin
attached, and dim sum pastries. In addition, three sets of chopsticks and three
Chinese wine cups are arranged above the food and closest to the headstone.
The head of the household usually begins by bowing three times with the wine cup in
hand, then pouring the wine on the ground just in front of the headstone. This
procedure is usually repeated three times. Each member of the family comes in
front of the headstone and bows three times with the right fist held cupped in
the left hand. Some families will then eat the food together there at the
grave site, similar to having a picnic with their deceased relatives. It is said
to bring good luck to eat the food that was offered to the deceased.
In addition, some families will begin by setting off firecrackers to scare
off evil spirits and to alert the deceased relatives that they are there to pay
Today, the responsibility to hang san or walk
the mountain as visiting the cemetary is commonly known, still falls to the eldest son.
Today families may be more likely to prefer simplified offerings of only the incense, paper money and
Submitted by Don S. Gee.
In response to a question regarding gravesites, Don responded:
In the U.S., we just follow western custom for the burial plot and
headstone. The headstone may include bilingual information with the
Chinese text including not only the name, but also village, area, county,
province of birth.
Ive seen my relatives gravesites in China. The site is first chosen
for the best feng-shui. Then instead of a headstone, the stone is
usually placed at the foot and is usually a small tablet indicating name,
date of birth and death. Since most Chinese are usually buried near where they
were born and raised, I dont remember seeing that information on the
tablet, but I may be wrong. In front of the tablet is an area used to
place the incense, usually three holes or an actual brass incense urn.
There is a rectangular cove where the tablet sits, and the walls on
either side are shaped circular and decreasing in height as towards
the front. The floor area in front of the tablet and between the
walls are flat. All this is made with cement. The floor area is flat
so that the family can make the food offerings during Ching Ming (in
April) and Chung Yeung (in October), both during the full moon or a few
days to a couple of weeks earlier if it is more convenient for the
Submitted by Don S. Gee.
Historic Chinese American Cemetery in San Jose, CA