Observing Tomb Sweeping traditions in Guilin, China

A guy goes with his wife’s family to 扫墓, or perform Tomb Sweeping Festival rituals at the family tomb. Lots of pictures, interesting information, and first-hand descriptions of the experience: 清明节 (Qingming Festival), paying respect to the ancestors.

(More about Tomb Sweeping Festival here.)

[Photo Gallery:] 2011 Tomb Sweeping Festival in Nankai, Tianjin, China

Here are some photos from around our neighbourhood during the Tomb Sweeping Festival 清明节 from the end of March to the beginning of April 2011 (blogged here). For more about the Tomb Sweeping Festival see:

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Tomb Sweeping Festival 清明节 2011 photos from Nankai, Tianjin, China

Here are some photos from around our neighbourhood in the days before Tomb Sweeping Festival 清明节 (April 5). Tomb Sweeping Festival is when Chinese traditionally honour their ancestors by tidying their graves and making offerings to them, mostly by burning spirit money (纸钱) and other paper offerings. See more photos in the Tomb Sweeping Festival 2011 photo gallery.

A family tradition. A family burns spirit money on the sidewalk outside our apartment complex:

Spirit money for sale on the corner nearest our apartment complex:

Spirit money (纸钱) is usually called “ghost money” or literally translated as “paper money”. This man is also in the following photo.

Piles of spirit money ash. Intersections are prime locations for sending burnt offerings to your ancestors:

Local media pooh-poohs on the practice of burning piles paper in public spaces and then leaving the ash to blow around. This neighbourhood notice board says:

“Civilizedly offer sacrifices and tidy the ancestral tombs,
safe and sound Tomb Sweeping Festival”

文明祭扫 平安清明

See more 2011 Tomb Sweeping Festival photos here.

More about Tomb Sweeping Festival:

Tomb Sweeping Day (清明节) 2010 in Tianjin

It’s Tomb Sweeping Day (清明节 / qīng míng jié), the time when families go maintain their ancestors’ graves and burn offerings to them. See the links at the bottom for more about Tomb Sweeping Day and the tradition of burning spirit money. These photos are from around our neighbourhood tonight.

According to one of our Chinese tutors, who has a law degree and teaches at Tianda for her day job, among Tianjin’s new April enforcement of previously unenforced laws (like spitting and bikes going through red lights) is a crackdown on street vendors. That includes the little wheelie carts selling spirit money and a surprising variety of other paper offerings.

Burning paper money in the street is not illegal, according to our tutor, but it is discouraged and in some cases grudgingly accommodated (see the propaganda posters in this post). Selling the spirit money, however, is illegal, and apparently they’ve had the obligatory news stories of vendors getting raided, etc.

If they stop letting bikes go through red lights (traffic has been noticeably changing) I’m going to be bummed. I have a couple language school buddies who’ve developed a whole set of terms a la CHiPS for essential bike rider maneuvers in Tianjin traffic. Looks like our days of no-rules, every-person-for-themselves, in-the-way-means-right-of-way bike riding might be numbered.

More about Tomb Sweeping Day and burning money in the road:

In a Xinjiang cemetery before Tomb Sweeping Day

With Tomb Sweeping Day upon us, a couple of laowais in Xinjiang discover a nearby cemetery using Google Earth and bike out there to have a look. Includes some basic info on the Tomb Sweeping Festival and an interesting look at a Xinjiang Cemetery, where ethnic and economic divisions are manifest even among the dead.

Tomb Sweeping Day

This weekend is a holiday weekend for many families in Taiwan because this Wednesday (I think) is Tomb Sweeping Day, which has become a family trip to the ancestor’s graves to tidy them up, burn offerings to the ancestor’s spirits, and perform other animistic rituals… generally similar to what Mulan does in the Disney movie.

This Sunday morning’s service had over an hour dedicated to a memorial of all the deceased members from the last several years. The talk was about how, “God loves memorials” and wants us to honour the memory of our ancestors. There was nice music, and a woman talked about each person’s life as pictures from their life were shown on the screen. The choir led some special songs. Many people, old and young, were crying throughout the pews. Mingdaw’s father was among those remembered. I was looking forward to seeing how the community handled this particular holiday, since fundamental aspects of Tomb Sweeping Day directly clash with their convictions.


the belief that personal spiritual beings and impersonal spiritual forces have power over human affairs and, consequently, that human beings must discover what beings and forces are influencing them in order to determine future action and, frequently, to manipulate their power.


are “feared, respected, and venerated because they are specifically remembered and are part of the extended family. Ghosts, on the other hand, are those spirits of the dead who are disappearing into the past and are no longer individually remembered by their families.” [Ancestors are called] “the living dead” and ghosts “the dead dead.”

“Tomb Sweeping Day”:

The Chinese respect for filial piety and careful attention to funeral rites is visibly manifested in the custom of ancestor worship. Since ancient times, a day has been designated for sweeping the tomb and honoring one’s ancestors. …

Tomb Sweeping Day … has retained its deep meaning in modern Chinese society, as the numerous families carrying out cleaning and worship rites at cemeteries during this time will testify. The [Taiwan] Central Government Prayer Service is also held on this day, amply evidencing the deep respect with which the Chinese view their roots.

Since most cemeteries are located on hillsides in the countryside or outskirts of town, upon completing the Tomb Sweeping Day rites, many families will take advantage of the fine spring weather by going on a family outing. These trips have become an important part of Tomb Sweeping Day as a time for families to enjoy time together.

The foods offered on Tomb Sweeping Day vary by region. In Taiwan, the most common dishes are the distinctive ” grave cakes” and jun ping.

Tomb Sweeping Day combines the people’s reverence for their ancestors and for nature and is a reaffirmation of the Chinese ethic of filial piety. Today, Tomb Sweeping Day is a time not only for worship and maintaining the tombs of ancestors, but also a tangible expression of filial respect for the teachings and virtues of forebears.

For more about Tomb Sweeping Festival, including photos and more info, browse the Tomb Sweeping Festival (清明节) category, or see: