Alternative Option To Combine Qing Ming Tradition & Modern Elements

Alternative Option To Combine Qing Ming Tradition & Modern Elements

As we contemplate the certainty of joining our ancestors one day, how can we ensure that future generations remember us? This introspective query indirectly highlights the significance of the Qing Ming Festival. In an era marked by an array of choices, it appears that the younger generation is drifting further from Qing Ming traditions. What approach should we take to communicate with them effectively and cultivate a favourable view of Qing Ming tomb-sweeping while safeguarding our cultural heritage? Confronted with the younger generation’s focus on environmental friendliness and social transformation, perhaps we can discover mutual ground for discussion by embracing concepts of modernization and civic responsibility.

Take the “beauty” of tradition, never forget its roots

The Qing Ming Festival has been passed down through the ages, with its irreplaceable values and virtues, just like the ancestral worship tradition that allows family members to connect with each other no matter the generation. The spirit of filial piety, is worthy of eternal praise. In this edition of PIETY, we are honoured to have Dr. Yam Kah Kean, a scholar of Chinese culture to share his insights.

“During the tomb-sweeping process, the ancestral worship ceremony not only allows us to express filial piety and respect to our ancestors, but also another important aspect is ‘remembering our roots.’ Without the ancestors, there would be no descendants. Realizing that our existence today is not a given, it reminds us to be grateful for our family roots and to never forget our origins.”

拜祭步骤  Praying Steps
拜祭步骤 Praying Steps

Dr. Yam Kah Kean is also a professor in the Department of Chinese Studies at the University of Malaya. His thesis was related to the category of Chinese religion. “However, based on my observation, if children have had interactions with deceased ancestors in their lives, they tend to have a stronger emotional connection to their ancestors. When instilling in them the concept of honouring the departed and respecting the distant, it is relatively easier.

Dr. Yam Kah Kean believes that for the younger generation who may not have met their ancestors or have a detached image of them, fostering a stronger connection with the Qing Ming Festival doesn’t necessarily require exclusively modern approaches. Instead, it is important to incorporate the beauty of traditional customs, as this is the way to convey the original spirit and essence of the Qing Ming Festival, allowing the younger generation to accept and pass it on through the generations. “When the true essence of Qing Ming is understood and acknowledged, especially when instilled in children from a young age, they will not reject it when they grow up, accepting it as a form of honouring their ancestors.”

Combining modern elements, civic-minded worship

Of course, the beauty of traditional culture may not effectively engage with the younger generation. Faced with the global issues for “environmental friendliness” and the fervour of young people for “social transformation,” we may find opportunities to connect with them from these perspectives. Without abandoning traditional customs, we can integrate the modern concept of “civic-minded worship,” enriching the significance of Qing Ming practices.

“The most important aspect of tomb-sweeping and ancestral worship is sincere reverence for our ancestors. It’s essential for the public to understand that ancestral worship isn’t merely comforting the deceased, but a heartfelt tribute from descendants, updating ancestors on family matters, aiming for peace for both the living and the departed.”

When it comes to the modern offerings for Qing Ming, such as elaborate paper replicas of ships, airplanes, smartphones, various new electrical appliances, and unexpected trendy items, Dr. Yam Kah Kean suggests that Qing Ming should avoid a mentality of comparison. Instead of opting for “high-end luxury” offerings, it may be better to simply prepare a few sets of paper clothes, shoes, incense, candles, tea, or personally fold some gold and silver paper. Fragrances can also be subtle rather than opting for large incense sticks, simplifying the Qing Ming ceremony in a modern way and gradually practising environmental friendliness.

“Furthermore, it is also recommended to avoid setting off fireworks during Qing Ming. Offer the appropriate amount of food for worship, avoiding excess and waste. After the worship is completed, pack the food to take back home, leaving no trash behind, maintaining a clean environment, and making the ancestral worship activities more civic-minded.”

Therefore, between civic-minded worship and traditional culture, it’s not necessarily an either-or situation. As a scholar in Chinese cultural studies, Dr. Yam Kah Kean also agrees that we can strike a balance between tradition and modernity, allowing both to coexist harmoniously.

Learn from the policies of other countries

Civilised worship has already been promoted in other countries. According to reports from “CommonWealth Magazine”, in recent years, various county and city governments in Taiwan have actively implemented the practice of “centralised burning of paper offerings” in the hope of reducing indiscriminate burning activities and minimising air pollution. Additionally, there is also the concept of “substituting merit for money”, which encourages people to redirect the money spent on purchasing paper offerings towards charitable donations, offering merits to ancestors while simultaneously reducing carbon emissions, achieving two goals at once.

In addition, in some regions of China, setting off firecrackers or releasing sky lanterns during the Qingming Festival to honour ancestors has been deemed illegal to prevent fire hazards. Therefore, as the world actively promotes environmental protection, civic-minded worship has gradually emerged as a new option, seemingly paving the way for a different approach where the new generation who care for society and the environment can gradually immerse themselves in the atmosphere of traditional culture.

Xiao En has also taken small steps towards introducing their “ Simplify · Reduce ” guide regarding the observance of the Qing Ming Festival in 2024. It encourages the adherence to the spirit of reverence for the ancestors through low-carbon, thrifty, and eco-friendly practices. This offers an additional choice and opportunity for reflection during this year’s Qing Ming Festival.

Editor's Note:

From the richness of our traditional culture to the advancements in modernization, the importance of environmental protection, and the cultivation of civic responsibility, our ultimate goal remains to forge a lasting connection with the spirit of our ancestors. The crux of the matter lies in whether we honor their essence and legacy during their time on earth. As elders, can we, while observing the Qing Ming Festival or standing before their gravestones, weave tales that link descendants to their forebears, nurturing their imagination and deepening their bond with the past? Will our descendants carry forth this spirit, passing it down from generation to generation? The Qing Ming Festival holds immense value beyond its role in fostering filial piety and strengthening family ties. It serves to awaken shared memories within our family, fostering a sense of unity and identity not only among family members but also within the wider community and nation. Through the ages and even beyond the realm of life and death, it stands as a testament to the enduring unity of our family.