Sunday, April 4, 2010

清明 -- Tomb Sweeping Day

While all of my friends in the Western world are celebrating Easter, Chinese people everywhere are enjoying the traditional 清明 (Qing Ming) festival, which is also called 'Tomb Sweeping Day'. This holiday falls about two weeks after the astronomical start of spring. It gives people time to enjoy the outdoors and the rebirth that spring represents, but there is a more serious side, too. Many people show respect to their ancestors by cleaning their graves, thus the name: Tomb Sweeping Day. Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau have had public holidays for Qing Ming for quite a while, but only recently (2008) has mainland China recognized the festival with a public holiday.

Because of the three-day weekend, I took Easter Sunday to go to
天坛 (Temple of Heaven), a UNESCO world heritage site in the southern part of Beijing. It is a fantastic temple and associated complex of building. The oldest part dates back to the Ming Dynasty and was constructed in 1406-1420! The emperors used to go there during the winter solstice to pray for good harvests. The extended, multi-day ceremony would include fasting and animal sacrifices. (I'm starting to get the picture that animal sacrifice was an important religious rite for previous Chinese generations!)

The exhibits at the Temple of Heaven give information about the buildings and rituals that took place there, and they point out the many important people who have visited the temple in the past. I've attached my picture of another famous picture that was on display there. (See photo.)

At the Temple of Heaven I actually used
汉语 (Chinese language) to ask a local to take my picture. I spoke in complete sentences, and she actually answered! It was good to practice in a real-life situation. Unfortunately, the picture was back lighted, so it didn't come out well enough to post - but I'm considering the encounter to be a moral victory.

In other news, I've been adjusting well to life in China as well as my course at BLCU. I've been a bit overwhelmed with the spoken language, but the longer I'm here, the more I'm starting to understand. I'm meeting my Chinese tutor for the first time this afternoon, and I'm hoping that she'll help me understand more of what people are saying.

The shock of the first week kept me on campus studying, but I hope to get out more - and blog more - as I get my classes under control. Until my next update:

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