Ching Ming Festival Items

The Ching Ming Festival, also known as the Grave-sweeping or Spring Remembrance, is when Chinese families show their respect by visiting the graves of their ancestors to clear away weeds, touch up gravestone inscriptions, make offerings of wine and fruit, and burn paper offerings.  

Technically, Ching Ming Festival falls on April 5 (Tuesday) this year, but many families use April 3 (Sunday) to make their visit.  According to Ming Pao (via Yahoo! News), there were at least 26 wildfires started accidentally when people burn paper offerings, and the fire department (including helicopters) was running all over the place to put out the fires.

Why burn paper, then, when they are environmentally unfriendly?  As it turns out, the paper offerings provide deep insight in social values.  Here is the editorial published in Sing Tao (via Yahoo! News):

It is Ching Ming today, and many pious children and grandchildren will visit their ancestors' graves.  Often, they leave behind fresh fruit and flowers, and some even burn paper money and other offerings to the souls of their ancestors.  From these offerings, we can glimpse at the changes in social life.

Most people place fresh flower to express their feelings.  Some lay down the favorite objects of the departed one.  In terms of food, it is usually a roast suckling pig and rice, but it can even be a sandwich.  Other than food, the favorite objects may be too big or expensive, so paper-made versions are used instead.  For example, if you see a set of paper mahjong tiles, then you can guess that the person loved to play that game.

There is another purpose for the paper products, and that is to compensate for what the person never received while alive.  After all, very few people could afford to live in big luxurious houses.  But, after death, their children can afford to buy them a paper house.  Furthermore, their children can even arrange for them to get paper servants (including security guards and nurses) to tend to them, to go around in a paper luxury car and to have huge supplies of gold, silver and money (in denominations of billions of dollars from the Heaven And Earth Bank).

So the basic idea is to offer compensation in the form of material enjoyment.  What is offered to the dead reflects the values of those who are alive, especially with respect to clothing and automobiles.  From the particular paper products, one can discern which brands are most valuable and popular.  For deceased young tots, their parents will provide them with brand-name bicycles and other toys.  Other than brands, the type of products has been changing as well.  Thus, paper air conditioners have replaced paper electric fans.  In recent years, there are even paper massage chairs and paper racing cars.

In looking at the array of products available at Hong Kong paper shops, we can see that Hong Kong people are basically plain.  Even the paper mahjong sets are more for recreational purposes than serious gambling.  This is particularly so when compared to the practice elsewhere.

According to media reports from the mainland, in the city of Harbin in Heilongjiang province, there are gambling equipment as well as male potency enhancement medicine and Ecstasy pills.  The paper mansion even has a young lady waving from the second floor verandah; if you don't like this particular young lady, you can order a customized version of your favorite movie star.  This perhaps indicates the confusion of moral values on mainland China.  Not many Hong Kong persons will use sex, gambling and drugs to please their ancestors.  So maybe this is one value that Hong Kong people should try to preserve.

In Hong Kong, the notion of "consumption in the netherworld" has created an economic demand for folk handicraft.  Some of the paper products resemble the original brand name products, enough to get some of the brands to pay attention to intellectual copyright problems.  So far, no brand has entered the paper business themselves.  The fact that people purpose paper products do not represent income loss to those brands.  There ought to be a balance between the respect for copyrights and popular tradition.  The bigger problem is that there is a tendency to build bigger and bigger paper products, thus using up more paper.  There ought to be a discussion about having a consumer model that is more environmentally sound that emphases better quality and less volume.

In the print edition of Sing Tao, these other paper products are listed:

And now for the best one of all (Ming Pao via Yahoo! News):

According to the newspaper Shenzhen Jingbao, at shops in places like Shenzhen's Longhua Market, there are paper 'mistresses' (二奶) for sale.  One shop owner claims that he has been selling more than a dozen a day.

According to the Shenzhen Municipal Affairs office, the city of Shenzhen has regulations that prohibit the production and sale of superstitious items, including paper mansions, paper mahjong sets and paper mistresses.

Funny, isn't it?  There are strict regulations against it, but nevertheless it is all over the place ...