Tradition vs superstition when sweeping tombs

By Mao Shoulong
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail China Daily, March 28, 2017
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On Tomb Sweeping Day which usually falls in early April, people pay respects to departed family members.

Paying homage to departed souls is a tradition, but some people indulge in unusual practices during the festival. Some read from Buddhist scriptures or burn incense sticks to invoke the Buddha to redeem the souls of their dead family members. A few even set off firecrackers to ward off evil spirits.

Besides, it is not uncommon to see people burning paper money on pavements and street corners, which pollute the environment and disturb pedestrians. And it is more than just paper money that they burn to "please" their ancestors. Villas, car and smartphone models made of paper are popular choices with some people, with a few even offering Viagra to the departed souls.

Such activities, which have even caused fires in some forested mountain slopes, in the name of paying respects to the departed souls are nothing but farce. They are not part of tradition, but cheap displays of living people's desires which they impose on the dead.

Of course, there are those who plant trees or flowering plants, or offer a bouquet of flowers, or play a piece of music on Tomb Sweeping Day to pay respects to their departed family members.

In the age of the internet, people have been finding new ways of paying homage to the dead. For instance, the first online memorial hall appeared in 2000, which helps preserve the voices of the departed souls. Whenever people want to pay homage to their ancestors, they just need to visit the online memorial site to offer flowers or candles, or play a piece of music. This is a new environmentally friendly and safe way to pay respect to the dead.

The Beijing municipal government recently started encouraging people to bury the ashes of their relatives in Evergreen Park, Chaoyang district. The first batch of voluntary registration has more than 30 families, which can be regarded as a new trend of sweeping tombs.

Tomb sweeping customs vary from place to place and family to family. But many practices are common across the country, and one can easily differentiate between tradition and vulgarity.

In today's market economy, demand determines supply even when it comes to funerals.

Although every Tomb Sweeping Day sees the growth of traditional practices, new trends continue to crop up. What people need to do therefore is to develop self-restraint and social governance and learn how not to be influenced by what others do. The more self-disciplined people are, the less lured they will be by farcical rituals.

And as the society develops, superstition and outdated customs will gradually lose their attraction for people. Therefore, it is important to expedite the development of social governance and market order to promote good traditions and discourage superstitious practices.

The author is a professor at the School of Public Administration and Policy, Renmin University of China.

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