Festival is also known as tomb sweeping day
Salem, Ore. — Salem’s annual Chinese Qing Ming Festival returns to Salem Pioneer Cemetery on Saturday, April 1, with an open house from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Take part in the event by placing a flower or lighting a joss stick to honor the Chinese burials. Or view the live ceremony on Facebook.
The program will start with a welcome presentation at 11 a.m. Salem Mayor Chris Hoy will speak at 11:10, followed by members of Salem’s Chinese Community. At 11:30, the open house will include a burner for joss paper, placing of joss sticks and flowers on the shrine.
The Qing Ming Festival, or the Clear and Bright Festival, is a traditional Chinese event associated with honoring ancestors and celebrating the return of spring. It is also known as “tomb sweeping” day.
Traditionally, family members clean the tombs of their ancestors and make offerings of tea, wine, and food. Families then burn paper, which represents money that the spirits can use in the afterlife. This ensures the ancestors have enough food and money for the coming year.
In Chinese funerary culture, your family is expected to care for your remains during festivals like Qing Ming. When many Chinese immigrated to America starting in the 1850s, they wanted to make sure their remains would be returned to China. After someone died, they were buried for a period of seven to 10 years. Then the remains were disinterred and placed in a special shipping container to be returned to China. Traditionally, only adult men were disinterred.
There are likely some women and children still buried in the Chinese section of the cemetery, as well as some men whose families may not have had the means to return their remains to China.
An interpretation of the ceremony was revived in Salem after the funerary slab was uncovered during 2018 archaeological excavations. Project partners include the City of Salem, Friends of the Pioneer Cemetery, Oregon State Historic Preservation Office, CCBA Portland, Willamette University, Members of the Chinese Shrine Advisory Committee, Rick Hilts and City View Cemetery, and Raymond Lin, Hoy Yin Association.
Learn more about the Annual Chinese Qing Ming Festival.