Today in China the festival of honoring the ancestors' resting place, "Qing Ming Jie!," takes place. It is a real communal, boisterous celebration of wine, spirits, firecrackers, candles, flowers, burning offerings, a picnic, and a cleaning and repainting of headstones! The equivalent in our culture is the more sedate observance of Memorial Day and perhaps Veterans Day.
My first experience of this Festival was in 1987 at Jiu Feng (Nine Peaks), the large communal cemetery for most of Wuhan, all of Wuchang, an area of 9 rolling hills that from a distance resembles a far off city of white buildings, very reminiscent of the Hong Kong cityscape. It was to observe the occasion of my beloved teacher, Ding Hongkui, Grandfather Ding's death, on what would have been his 92nd year.
I was taken to Jiu Feng by my dear and forever friend, Wang Jinzhi. The tremendously large resting place was far outside the city of Wuchang, accessible by a long bus ride. Extra buses were mobilized as thousands of people traveled the day long to "party" with their ancestors. And a party was what it was, a very raucous celebration. The explosions and smoke from thousands of firecracker strings alone set the noise at July 4th levels!
The bus ride ended with a long walk to the far distant hills covered with gravestones. The top photo accompanying this blog show us stopping at kiosks on the way to purchase the necessary fireworks, candles, flowers and libations. Most of the people in the photo are returning from their observances and it gives you some idea of the mass of people trekking to Jiu Feng to honor and respect their ancestors.
The next three photos show Wang Jinzhi and myself reaching the gravesite and performing the cleaning and obeisant rituals. The gravestone at that time was temporary. The characters were painted on, not carved into, as the taller gravestone next to Wang Jinxzhi shows. The permanent gravemarker which came later, provided by Yeye's Snake Hill Pavilion students, is shown in the last photo. The story behind this photo is a blog in itself, but it was taken in 1994 in a special visit, not on the Qing Ming Festival of that year. Surrounding the new, larger, black and white, carved gravestone with Wang Jinxzhi is another forever friend, Lan Tian, and her now husband and my then student, Rodney Barrow. Their presence with Wang Jinzhi at Nine Peaks has to do with Ma Meiren, the matchmaker, and a very special audience with the Abbot, priests and officials of the "Long Spring Daoist Temple!" That story will appear in this space in a later installment...!