In Loving Memory

By Christina Kim - April 04, 2016


When a person dies, they leave the world and their loved ones behind.
Life, death and whether there is a life after death are all part of the nature's biggest mysteries.

The only things that remain after one's death is the memories of the person.
It is after all, the only thing we can all hold on to after one has departed for good.

It is for the memories of the dead that memorials and events of remembrance are held; commemorating our loved ones who are no longer with us.

Of course you don't really need any official event to honor memories of your departed loved ones, but the designation of events for the worship and visiting the graves of the deceased served more of a general guideline or a mere reminder of the practice.
This is generally practised across most of the cultures; whereby the living would pay respects to the dead or simply, to fulfill the obligation of filial piety.

This month marks the period of the Qing Ming festival (I have previously written about it here and here), a widely observed event among the Chinese community for remembering their deceased ancestors (in particular, for the Chinese community emphasizes on the hierarchical origins which often take precedence).

As mentioned in my previous posts where I have shared stories from my research on the origins of the festival and the importance, or even the taboos surrounding the practice, Qing Ming is very much, in a way, a traditional festival which can be traced back all the way to the ancient Tang Dynasty in China.

Observed on the 4th or 5th of April (which coincides with the first day in the fifth solar term of the traditional Chinese lunar or rather, lunisolar calendar), Qing Ming, which directly translates to "Clear and Bright", is also known in various forms, such as Memorial Day (for the Chinese), to Tomb Sweeping Day and Ancestors' Day.

The most famous story associated to be the starting point of Qing Ming is the Cold Food Day (Hanshi Day) where there is no cooking or hot food allowed during the period.
This in turn can be traced back to the Duke Wen of Jin; Chong 'er, who established this day following a life-changing event which led to this day to commemorate the loyalty of his aide.
Duke Wen had a loyal follower, Jie Xitui who stayed by his side even during his years of exile. He was faithful to Chong'er that he even cut off his own flesh to feed his master in times of hunger.
When Chong'er was then bestowed the title of Duke, Jie decided to take his leave as he felt his services were no longer needed. He retreated to the forest to live with his mother.
Duke Wen then ordered for a search to seek Jie Xitui back to him, and he could not find him in the forest. It was then that he ordered a fire to be set to the forest; though his intention was mainly to force Jie Xitui out and back to him.
However, the plan backfired and the forest fire instead killed Jie Xitui and his mother.
Filled with guilt and remorse, Duke Wen called for mourning for three days for the death of his loyal follower and his mother and there will be no fire during the three days.
This particular event became the Cold Food Day, or Hanshi Day where people would not be able to cook with fire and therefore settled with food which were not heated up.

This probably lends the origins to the serving of fruits and pre-made food which were brought to the tombs which people commemorate their own ancestors.

The Cold Food Day is just loosely related to the origins of Qing Ming, for the Qing Ming we observe today is actually initiated from Emperor Xuanzong from the Tang Dynasty in China.
Back then, the wealthy people would flock to the tombs of their departed ancestors or loved ones regularly, making the affair a rather extravagant one as they splurge on luxurious items to be burnt as offerings that the Emperor then decreed for the whole practice of honoring and paying respects to the ancestors to be officially observed on only one day in a year, thus designating Qing Ming as the aforementioned day.

Qing Ming can be observed on the actual day, although the normal practice (locally) would dictate that one can start visiting the tombs 10 days before and 10 days after the actual date  of the festival.
Logically so, to allow members of the family to make their travel plans home to pay their respects together, all in a family.

It is because Qing Ming is really, just like most of the majority of festivals, a very family-centric event.
The Chinese community take their ancestors very seriously, and when it comes to honoring the dead ancestors, it is often the practice, or rather, the obligation to involve the whole family.
By that I really mean the entire family, including the extended family.

It is one of those rare times, and perhaps even more than the Lunar Chinese New Year where one will see every one in the whole family.
Well, almost.

Like most Chinese traditions, filial piety is the central based on the society's culture, rooted from the origins of Confucius's teachings, whereby a lot of emphasis is placed on family unity and respect for the elders.

Qing Ming is obligatory, and mandatory for the family.

It is an interesting culture really, and I would say that it is even beautiful for the emphasis it placed on the family as a whole.

At the same time, while it is also the beauty of the depiction of filial piety, it could also turn out to be judgmental on the same notion as well.

Absence of a family member could make them being perceived as unfilial or being disrespectful.

Sure, there is no right or wrong, nor does the practice holds any particular rules or punishment when it comes to the presence or absence of anyone in the family; but it is the perception and the culture in the society which creates the stigma of anomaly and scorn upon those who fail to show up, and say, not fulfill their duty as a descendant.

I am not defending those who don't, nor am I judging those who do for who am I to say after all?
When it comes to culture and traditions, there are simply more than fifty shades of grey in that stipulated gray area.
After all, I am not exactly the pious descendant either; admittedly.

It is the whole ostracizing that I find rather unfounded and even unfair at times.

Remembering the dead, comes in many forms for everyone.

There are some who could not bear to look at the photographs of their departed loved ones, or even stay in the same house; not because they hate them but because the lingering memories are just simply too strong that they could not bear it.
There are also some who cannot deal with facing that relative who bears a striking resemblance to the deceased or even talk about that person at all, for the memories relived would just be too depressing.
It is all about the memories, and how it works in many different ways for each and every one.

Then there is the part of religion, and perhaps science as well.
The dead are no longer there, the last thing one would want is to be constantly reminded of that very fact of their non-existence.

It is not in dishonor but more of a heavy feeling, as though they can never let go that the particular person is no longer there.

It is also for this very reason the Chinese would continue to bring fruits, joss sticks, offerings in forms of paper models of houses, cars, and even to the extent of preparing the favorite dishes for their ancestors when visiting the tombs.


They believe in the dwelling of their dead ancestors who are still lingering in spirits, though it differs according to religion.

However, another explanation would simply be, it is all about the memory.

They 'miss' the presence of that particular person in flesh and blood right beside them, during the events of the year, such as the other celebratory festivals; Lunar New Year, Mid Autumn Festival, Winter Solstice and the list goes on.
The deceased used to be present and perhaps there were laughter and happy moments shared in their presence, but death took that away.

That very fact of their deaths means they are no longer there and they will never ever be there, to sit at the table, enjoying the good food and drinks and share in the conversation or jokes with everyone.
They are gone.
For good.

That is a fact that many can come terms with as they send the dead off in funerals and see the burial taking place.
The family understands that they won't come back.
They know they have gone to their eternal rest.
There will never be another day they can see that person, after their coffins have been lowered down into the ground or burnt at high temperatures to ashes.

There is no doubt that this person is no longer alive.

However, there is still no reason we can just erase the memories of the person just with that very fact.
Just because they are no longer there or their faces are now on the gray stones, does not mean that they were never here before.

The nailing of the coffin, the scattering of the sand or the shutting of the urn does not simply erase everything about the person who has just died.

In fact, if anything else, it even brings back more memories of the person.

Sometimes, we even struggle to try to recall some of the memories.

It can be devastating.
It can be heart-breaking.
It can be crippling.
There is no word to describe that wave of sadness when we think of those who are no longer there.

My grandmother once said, "Always treat your loved ones well when they are alive, not after they are dead. Cherish the living, remember the dead"

She even said that as a son or daughter, if we were to treat our parents well when they are still alive, even if you do not visit the tombs, it does not matter anymore.

Her theory is simple, when they are alive, they could feel and see for themselves the way we treat them.
After they have passed on, only we could see and well, others who are around us.
Those who have died?
Who knows whether they could see, and even if they could, how do we know if they are really happy or sad with the things we offer them?
Nobody knows.
It is a mystery.

Despite that, I still think it is a very beautiful concept in all; to honor the memories and bringing back that loving presence of our deceased ancestors.
It serves to remind the following generations of the earlier generations before us.
There are some who probably just tag along because they had to, or they were forced by their parents and barely felt any emotion for they do not even know the faces on the stones, but that still did not mean those people never existed.
It is not about paying respects alone or just fulfilling that obligation, but rather, it is the acknowledgment of the people before us.
Those who were part of our history.
Those who led to our very existence.
It is about that knowledge and the nod to the unknown, that we acknowledge ourselves this very day.

I have vague memories of my own grandparents, though I do know they loved me very much.
I lost them when I was still in primary school, but I still remember them and the times I have shared with them and sometimes it still feels like yesterday.

I remembered that when my grandfather first died, I would wonder if it was all a dream and that grandpa would just walk into the room.
It was not real.
Yet I know very well that it was just part of denial; that I simply refused to believe it was real.

It has been two decades since my grandfather has left and I remembered that very evening when I first heard of his death.
The memories are just as fresh.

My grandmother left almost a decade after, and I never got to say goodbye.

I always believed they are watching us, from a better place.
At least I know, they have got their eternal rest.

There are times when I wished they could see me as I progress through my life; receiving my academic awards, my graduation scroll, walking down the aisle and the many other things that took place in my life.

I may not be there every single time to pay my respects on the memorial day or even during festivals for the dead, and I am not going to even justify myself, but that does not mean I have forgotten all about them.

More than all that, they are always on my mind; far from just these memorial days or designated days to visit the tombs.
There they will always be; fresh in my mind and they are, going to be part of my life and always, that part of me which will never go away.

For without my ancestors, Who am I this very day?

Always, in Loving Memory...


*Though I could not always make it fulfill my duties, I always pray and remember my deceased grandparents and ancestors; even those whom I never knew in person.
To all those who came before me, you are not people I do not know but rather, you are the ones who made up Me for Me, that very person here today.
Thank you for all of you

Qing Ming by Du Mu

Drizzling rain hovers over the Qing Ming festival
One who mourns in his heart is on his way
Asking if there is any wine shop anywhere
The boy points in the direction of the Apricot Flower Village in the distance

*Author's Note: 
This is not a sponsored/promotional post, and solely based on author's personal opinions and do not represent the general public. 
Experiences vary from one individual to another.
You do not have to agree with me.

Art Direction and Photography Styling by Me.
Photos/Videos all belong to me and are copyrighted.
Please kindly ask for permission if you need to use any of my images.

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