China Goes Green on Tomb-Sweeping Day

Got money to burn and deceased ancestors to honor? So do many millions of Chinese – and that's the problem. The 2,500-year-old tradition of burning fake money on Tomb-Sweeping Day is meant to boost the fortunes of the deceased but with a population of well over a billion, it's the living who are paying the price.

Tomb-Sweeping Day, or Qingming, is an ancient Chinese tradition that goes back more than 2,500 years. In addition to tidying up the tombs of the ancestors, reverent descendants typically set off firecrackers and burn wads of so-called “ghost money”, the latter believed to be a way of ensuring prosperity for their ancestors in the afterlife.

The ceremonies also ensure a measure of prosperity for businesses catering to Tomb-Sweeping Day. According to the China Consumers' Association (CCA), over 1,000 tonnes of yellow-tinted imitation currency are burned on Tomb-Sweeping Day, which this year falls on April 5th, and as much as 10 billion yuan ($1.5 billion) is spent on supplies.

The side-effects of these ceremonies have become problematic, however. “At this time of year,” states 55-year-old Zhong Xiaoxing of Hohhot, “people burning thick wads of yellow-colored paper cash can be seen on the streets. The ashes make the streets dirty and the air sometimes would become suffocating.”

Zhong is doing his part to make Tomb-Sweeping Day a cleaner, greener occasion by forgoing the combustibles and opting instead for an environmentally-friendly way to pay tribute to his deceased father.

“Presenting real or silk flowers began gaining popularity in Hohhot last year,” explained Zhong, “and we have decided to shift to the new way of doing things.” 

Chinese citizens of all ages are gradually accepting more environmentally-friendly ways of venerating their ancestors without detracting from the concept itself.

“The tradition of tomb-sweeping should be preserved because it helps strengthen the unity of the nation through the veneration of our ancestors,” stated Beijing Normal University professor Wan Jianzhong. “In spite of the changes in tomb-sweeping, the core spirit of expressing our gratitude to our ancestors should remain the same and be long-lasting.” (via People's Daily, images via Xinhuanet and Hopemeng)