Mike Cairnduff from Hello Teacher!

Updated April 04, 2021
By Mike Cairnduff

Tomb Sweeping Day

Tomb Sweeping Day, also known as the Qingming Festival, is a time to pay respect to relatives and ancestors who have passed away.

The day is a public holiday in mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan.

What do Chinese people do on Tomb Sweeping Day?

People visit cemeteries and spend time tidying up the graves and tombstones of their ancestors.

This involves weeding, removing dirt and doing a general cleanup of the gravesite.

People burn incense sticks and paper to honour the dead and transmit money and other objects to loved ones in the afterlife.

Families also offer food or flowers to the deceased. The food can be left at the grave site or taken back home with the family.

Burning incense for Tomb Sweeping Day

Burning incense sticks at the gravesite is a traditional way of celebrating Tomb Sweeping Day.

Originally from Guangzhou and now residing in Melbourne, Australia, 38-year-old woman Bi Hui Li says she likes leaving food at the grave. But this can pose a problem.

“During the Qingming Festival, we like to bring pork to our ancestors’ graves. However, if we leave it there, we're worried that homeless people will come and take it,” she says.

Other ways people celebrate

Some people wear a willow twig on their head to keep ghosts away, in keeping with the origins of the festival.

Other people take advantage of the nice spring weather and go for a walk or hike. In Mandarin, this is known as 'ta qing' (literally 'to go for a walk in the spring').

Chinese people walking in the spring

Going for a walk and enjoying the spring weather is one way you can spend Qingming Festival.

Wang Jing Xi, a 37-year-old woman from Beijing, says that people often take short trips during the festival.

“It’s an opportunity for families and friends to get together and go travelling in the beautiful spring weather,” she says.

Kids can join in too

Kids often join their parents and visit their grandparents’ graves on Tomb Sweeping Day.

This is often followed by a family dinner (food is very much a part of Chinese culture).

Younger people, however, generally don’t take the day as seriously as their parents do.

“The younger generations don't think Qingming is as important as the older generations,” Li says.

Celebrating Tomb Sweeping Day from afar

Chinese people can still celebrate Qingming Festival if they no longer live near their ancestors' cemeteries.

“You can ask your relatives to pay tribute to your ancestors in your absence. You don’t have to visit your ancestors’ graves on Tomb Sweeping Day,” Li says.

Some burial spots offer relatives a chance to watch a staff member clean the tomb via a live stream. Other cemeteries will send you photographs of the cleaned grave.

For Wang, it's okay if you can’t make it to your ancestors’ graves on the exact day.

“Tomb Sweeping Day is just a way to remember your loved ones. You don’t have to celebrate on that particular day if you’re not around.”

“I won’t be back in China until April 9, so I’ll miss Tomb Sweeping Day. I’ll have to visit my grandparents’ tomb on my return,” she says.

Paying virtual respect

In 2020, Chinese people started paying their respects to dead ancestors digitally as the country came to grips with the coronavirus outbreak.

'Cloud tomb sweeping' allows people to virtually clean graves and make offerings to spirits.

This lets people fulfil their traditional obligations while still abiding by social distancing rules.

Now that you know a bit more about Tomb Sweeping Day, find out some of the weird things that Chinese people do like check banknotes and spit on the ground.

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