Qingming (direct translation is Pure Brightness, also known as Tomb-Sweeping Day).
It has been celebrated for 2,500 years. In 2018, I happened to be in Hong Kong visiting my Parents so I changed my plan to go to my father’s home village to celebrate this festival. The last time I attended similar event was 14 years ago. It was a time of family reunion, and I was able to meet up with a branch of my family that are I don’t get to see very often. We were separated when the Communists took over China in 1950 and my Father escaped to Hong Kong. He was unable to see his mother for 30 years until Deng Xiaoping liberalized China and it was safe again to travel without prosecution.
For rural Chinese, they buried their dead up in the hills with good Feng Shui. The grave sites will be overgrown with weeds from a year ago. We cleared the site and laid down offerings (pouring of rice wine and various snacks). Firecrackers will be lit and we bowed to pay our respect. We had 5 sites to visit: my great grandparents, grandmother, Uncle Ming, and Uncle Jao. At the end we have a quick picnic which always involved eating pork. In the old tradition only males are eligible to fetch a portion of the pork. Nowadays, it is a free-for-all. Then we trekked back to the family compound and shared a meal together. So Qingming is a time to reconnect with other family members. I was told more people return to participate for Qingming than the Lunar New Year festival. From the photos, you see a happy gathering. Behind the smiles, there is a bitter chapter in my family saga.
When the Communist took over in 1950, they started political purges. There is no accurate account of how many were executed (why my father and Uncle Him took off to Hong Kong) and my grandmother was often singled out for prosecution whenever there was another round of ‘Political Movement’ and anti-revolutionaries were needed to provide the venting of public rage.
My grandmother who has 2 daughters and 4 sons was a ‘perfect’ target because she had many ‘bad qualities’:
- her brother was in the diplomatic corp under Kuomintang (KMT, Chinese Nationalist Party, a sworn enemy) and was living in US with his family (the Paper Tiger of the West)
- her eldest daughter eloped to Taiwan (therefore a spy for KMT)
- her two sons (my Father and Uncle Him) escaped to Hong Kong (running dogs for the British)
- she owned acres of lychee orchard & rice fields, and hired locals to help with the harvest (oppressive big landlord)
After various family members escaped, there were one daughter (Aunt Yao) and 2 sons (Uncle Ming and Uncle Jao) remind behind in the home village. Aunt Yao and Uncle Jao did not want to part of the relentless prosecutions so they turned their backs on their mother and Uncle Ming. They officially disassociated themselves from the family and they were rewarded for decent jobs. The only son (Uncle Ming) that stood by his mother routinely offered himself to be beaten up instead of his mother. It became so bad during the Cultural Revolution that Uncle Ming and his wife (the lady in silver hair smiling) attempted to hang themselves. They were discovered by their youngest daughter (Ah Tau) and were saved, which resulted in more beating. My grandmother was therefore able to lived beyond 100-yr old and I was able to meet her briefly in 1985. Uncle Ming has passed away in early 1970 due to ill health, I was unable to meet him.
For 30+ years, my family in the village living together in the same compound treated the other side as strangers. My cousin, Ah Tau was instrumental mending the division after her father (Uncle Ming) has passed away, so we started to speak to another and sometimes share meals on major occasions, like Qingming Festival. The last grave we visited was Uncle Jao, whom turned his back on his family. He was accidentally killed by his daughter-in-law 10 years ago. My Father is the only surviving member left among his litter. The older men in this collections are my cousins, sons of Uncle Ming who have now becomes grandfathers. Most of people in this photo collection are the offspring of Uncle Ming. A few from Uncle Jao joined us. The pain is still beneath the surface. I sense it will take a few more generations to heal this wound for my family. I am sure my story is not unique.
This blog entry is attributed to Uncle Ming and his courage.