A Gweilo's Guide to the Ching Ming Festival in Hong Kong
Hong Kong/Ohana/Family

A Gwelio’s Guide to Chingming Festival, A Show of Respect to Ancestors

A Gwelios Guide to Qingming Festival 2023 in Hong Kong 1

Whether you dropped down in the Victoria Harbour 25 years ago with eternal hope of your new home, or recently found yourself thriving in the Pearl of the Orient, you may still have not shaken that classic Gweilo identity and perspective of Hong Kong.

Are you not fully clued up on what our Chinese festivals mean or what to do for Hong Kong’s big calendar events? We’re here to help with our Gweilo’s Guide!

What is Ching Ming (or Qingming) Festival?

an elderly couple standing in front of tombstones with flowers

The Ching Ming Festival, also called the Qingming Festival or Tomb-Sweeping Day in English, is an age-old Chinese tradition observed by ethnic Chinese communities in Taiwan, Malaysia, Singapore, mainland China, Hong Kong, and Macau. The festival falls on the fifth day of the fifth month on the lunar calendar, which coincides with April 4 in 2024. In Hong Kong, the tradition is recognized as a public holiday.

Acting as a celebration of spring, during this time it is common for Chinese people to visit the tombs of their ancestors to clean them and offer ritualistic tributes to their deceased loved ones. Such offerings commonly comprise traditional food dishes, along with the burning of joss paper and joss sticks.

Why do we celebrate Ching Ming Festival, and what’s the meaning behind it?

flowers decorating tombstones for ching ming festival

China celebrated the Ching Ming Festival on April 4th, a traditional commemoration of ancestors, which dates back over 2,500 years during the Zhou Dynasty in China. Emperors at the time would offer sacrifices in honor and respect of their ancestors, in exchange for wealth, peace and good harvests for the development of the country.

In 732AD, Emperor Xuanzong of the Tang Dynasty mandated that respect must be paid at ancestors' grave annually, formalising Ching Ming Festival as is today. According to another legend, the festival was created to honor Jie Zhitui, a friend of Duke Wen of Jin, who died from a fire. The Duke declared three days of no fire, during which only cold food was permitted. This eventually led to the practice of eating only cold food during the festival.

How do people celebrate Ching Ming festival?

joss paper offerings being burned ching ming festival

During Ching Ming Festival. sweeping tombs and offering burning joss, in the form of incense sticks and silver-leafed paper, are among the most common tributes. Depending on religious beliefs, people may pray to a higher deity to honour their ancestors or directly to ancestral spirits. Hong Kong smells fresh and beautiful during this time of the year!

Younger generations can remember and pay respects to their ancestors, connecting with their cultural heritage. However, with people living farther from their ancestral homes and the increase of cremation with columbaria in cities, the originally rural event has been transformed. In some places, it is believed that sweeping the tomb is only allowed during this festival to avoid disturbing the dead.

Is there any specific Ching Ming Festival customs or superstitions I should follow or be aware of?

At larger gravesites around Hong Kong, families may respect traditional rituals, including laying out auspicious foods like pork, chicken and pastries at the headstone of their dead loved ones. Many Chinese people will set off firecrackers, light incense, and burn ghost money to wish their loved ones wealth in the afterlife. And even some families share a meal at the grave to dine with their ancestors!

The traditional festival is often observed with eating cold, green, glutinous rice dumplings. However, modern families have shifted away from this practice and now focus on cleaning the gravesites, burning incense and ghost money, and laying fresh flowers. Some families also enjoy a meal together to commemorate their ancestors and take a break from work.

New to Hong Kong? Check out The Beat Asia's Hong Kong 101 series for all the comprehensive guides you will need to make the most out of this stunning city!

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