Episode 38: Day Of The Dead

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The Pixar movie Coco won a lot of laughs and tears from audiences last year. Because it is about family and death which are the two most sentimental topics for everyone. Birth and death. Where did we come and where are we going. Day of death is the Mexican festival Dia de los Muertos, however, a lot of details reminds me of QingMing Festival 清明节in China.

Qing means clear ming means bright. It is on the first day of the fifth month in lunar calendar usually on either 4th or 5th April every year. In the book LiShu历书, it says the 15th day after ChunFen 春分, a solar term in China, which refers to the day when the sun at the celestial longitude of 0 degree, everything in the nature is clean and bright. It is clear to see the world. The name of the festival came from here. So it is in the beginning of the Spring, people start to go outdoors doing picnic and visit ancestors after a long winter.


The festival originally is from Hanshijie 寒食节, Cold Food Festival which is to memorize JieZiTui 介子推, a general from the Spring and Autumn period 春秋时 期. The Prince ChongEr 重耳of State of Jin 晋国 exiled during a revolution in the year 655 BC. JieZiTui was with him. One day, the prince was so hungry and had nothing to eat, JieZiTui cut a piece of flesh from his thigh for his lord. In 636 BC, after 19 years, Prince ChongEr became the Duke JinWen 晋文公 and generously rewarded to those who helped him during his exile, but he forgot about JieZiTui who offered his own flesh. JieZiTui didn’t say anything and asked for retirement. He lived in Mountain Mian 绵山 with his elderly mother. Until the duke realized his neglect and wanted to invite him back. Mountain Mian was hard to climb so somebody suggested to set a fire in order to force JieZiTui out. JieZiTui was so determined not to see the duke and died with his mom under a tree.

The duke was so regret and made a pair of shoes out of the burned wood and decided that day as Cold Food festival, when nobody in the country was allowed to set a fire. People usually eat cold deli and do tomb sweeping on the festival. Since Cold Food Festival is close to the time of QingMing 清明, another solar term in China, they became one festival QingMing Festival. I remember when I was a kid in China, it was the annual day to visit my past grandparents in the cemetery. We would bring all kinds of food and drinks and worshiped them on the tomb and share some of food with family there together. I do admire the way the Mexican people treat death that they dance and celebrate and have comics making jokes about death. I mean death is kind of a forbidden topic in China which is always related with sadness and separation in Chinese culture. People try to avoid talking about it instead of facing it even before dying. That’s why the tomb sweeping day is kind of the only time family are together to talk about death and communicate with past ancestors.


Another important tradition on Qing Ming Festival is to burn joss paper. Joss paper in Chinese called ZhiQian 纸钱 or MingBi 冥币also is known as ghost money. It is paper or paper crafts made for burning as offerings to the ancestors. Chinese people believe that when you burn these things while saying ancestors’ names they could receive in another world. Since burning paper crafts are acceptable, you can find anything literally anything made of paper in shops nowadays like Iphones, beautiful ladies, mahjong 麻将 and etc.


In the Taoist rituals, the practice of burning joss paper is acceptable however some Buddhist groups and some environmental activists discourage it out of concern for the environment. Maybe in the future instead of burning real paper, people can send money to their ancestors through apps on their phones or even bitcoins.



Dia de los Muertos/ Day of the dead

清明节 QingMing Festival

寒食节 Cold Food Festival

春分 ChunFen

清明 QingMing

介子推 JieZiTui

晋文公 Duke JinWen

麻将 mahjong

纸钱/冥币 joss paper

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