The Ching Ming Festival is an annual event to honour ones ancestors at their grave sites. Ching Ming translates to ‘clean and bright’ and the festival is also known as grave or tomb sweeping day.  It occurs on the 104th day after the winter solstice; in 2013 this occurred on 4th April.

Image courtesy of Philip Roeland @ Flickr

Extra public transport is scheduled to enable people to visit Hong Kong’s hilly cemeteries for grave sweeping – maintaining graves by sweeping, weeding, cleaning  and touching up lettering on headstones. Grave sweepers also bring flowers, particularly chrysanthemums (a traditional symbol of death), and burn incense. Food and wine is laid out at the gravesite, and then eaten as a way of sharing a meal with the deceased.

In Chinese culture the dead cannot take anything with them to the afterlife. The living are responsible for providing for their deceased relatives, by burning paper replicas of material goods to send them to the other side. In return the deceased bestow blessings on the living. Traditional paper offerings were cash, in the form of Hell banknotes and paper gold ingots. They now include paper versions of houses, cars, domestic helpers, the latest iPads, iPhones, designer handbags, brandy and cigarettes. You can even get a paper mistress.

Paper offerings – Image courtesy of vladimir.kvasov @ Flickr

A friend teaching primary school in Hong Kong was delighted to find high quality paper replicas which she bought to use in an upcoming lesson, but her students were horrified to see the paper offerings in the classroom.

In China, those unable to honour their ancestors can outsource the job. Businesses have sprung up offering services such as sweeping the grave, burning offerings, crying and kowtowing. Ten minutes of weeping costs 300 yuan, and kowtowing 50 yuan each time a head strikes the ground. Unsurprisingly this service is considered by some to be unfilial and insincere.