Monday, April 2, 2012


Photo: Straits Times

Qing Ming or All-Souls Day usually falls on the first week of April. This year it falls on 5 April. Thousands of Chinese Malaysians and Singaporeans who practise ancestral worship will observe this day by making the annual visit to the burial grounds of their dearly-departed kin. It is a mark of filial piety to pay their respects to their ancestors with prayers and offerings of food. Family members also take the opportunity to spruce up the burial area. This explains why Qing Ming is also referred to as "Tombsweeping Day".

Perhaps most fascinating of the Qing Ming rituals is the burning of papier mache offerings. Over the years, these paper mache offerings have changed in keeping with the trends. I recall decades ago witnessing the burning of this huge paper replica of a mansion. The patriach of a family supermarket in my neighbourhood had passed away at a ripe old age. His children wanted to make sure their father would live in luxury in his after life.

A papier mache mansion all ready to be burnt as an offering to the deceased.

At the time as I was watching the 'mansion' make its way up in smoke to the other world, I thought about my dad. When he passed away in 1957, I remember my grandma made sure we burnt offerings of paper money - lots of it, in silver and gold, also clothes, food and his reading glasses. She wanted to make sure my dad would be comfortable and would always have money to spend.

Today, being well-provided for takes on a new definition. It is no longer about sending necessities to the beloved deceased. The trend now is to go for paper replicas of luxury items like an iPad, LV bags, jade and gold jewelry, a BMW, and even a yacht!

I was in Chinatown a few weeks ago hoping to find that little shop which used to make paper offerings for Qing Ming. It was no longer there. Not surprising. It is a dying art, literally. In land scarce Singapore, for example, who can afford to buy a burial plot? Most people these days choose cremation over burial. It's cheaper and more convenient in many ways.

With the younger generation losing interest in the old ways, Chinese traditions and customs will soon disappear into the history books. There might come a day when Qing Ming will no longer be observed if young parents of today do not pass it down to their children.

Whether that is a sad thing or not is debatable, I suppose


Anonymous said...

Younger generation fails on continuation of the tradition...

seniorsaloud said...

Well, as long as my children remember me in their hearts when I am gone, that's good enough for me. I'm not one for rituals if they are conducted solely to perpetuate a tradition. Many people observe Qing Ming because they are forced to either by their parents or wives, or because they don't want to appear unfilial.