Qingming means purity, peace and civilization in the Chinese language. Qingming is a 2,500-year-old tradition of tomb-sweeping, not so unlike Memorial Day in the United States.The holiday follows the Chinese New Years and falls 15 days after the Spring Equinox, or early April to the rest of the world.
Families travel from the big cities and head to their ancestral homes to visit their deceased relatives’ final resting places. There they burn fake money, light candles and incense, tie colorful fabric around the graves and present bowls of fruit and flowers, and even a bottle of their favorite hooch for the deceased to enjoy on their journey. It is common to discover bowls of favorite food and empty bottles of favorite wines or spirits resting near the graves and find colorful paper scattered near grave sites.
Burial places in China differ than other parts of the world, in that with over a billion people, folks are generally cremated and their ashes buried in front of monuments, often ironically scattered in remote places. As urban as China has become, most of their dead still are under lovely trees and on remote hilltops, often with million dollar views, so to speak.
While hiking just outside of Qingdao in the Shandong Province in northeast China, we stumbled upon two dozen burial sites scattered across a hillside between a trail into the Laoshan Mountains, famed for its tea-growing, and the lofty views of the sublime Yellow Sea. The site, although seemingly quite old, appeared well-taken care of and even include two obviously new additions judging by the pile of fresh soil and the pot of beautiful and fresh yellow roses nearby.
In an era when China is experiencing exponential growth in hundreds of cities across the country, the fate of places like this one, with its wooded hilltops and endless sea views, may one day soon be in jeopardy. Already in the nearby Henan Province, entire villages have collectively lost hundreds of years of family tombs destroyed by Chinese officials eager to reclaim land for agriculture and lucrative high-rise apartment projects.
Often families are given only days to remove family markers and remains before bulldozers begin reshaping centuries-old sacred ground. The quaint and ancient custom of Qingming may one day be yet another ancient tradition swept away in the name of greed and so-called progress.