This year April 5 was an interesting day for Christians in China as Easter coincided with Qingming Festival (grave sweeping). On the day they celebrated the empty tomb they were also expected to tend to the tombs of their ancestors. In some cases, the ancestors were themselves Christians, so ceremonies and services are conducted at Christian cemeteries.
This article, translated from the mainland site Gospel Times provides an interesting glimpse into how Christians celebrate the festival in China today.
Beijing Christian Church to Hold Qingming Memorial Services
At 10:00 a.m. on April 7th and 8th, Christians in Beijing will hold Qingming memorial services at the Xibeiwang Christian Cemetery and the Sanhe Zion Cemetery. The Beijing Fengtai Church will conduct these services. Every year during the Qingming Festival, the Beijing Christian church holds two memorial services.
While it is true that in the eyes of many people Christians in general are considered to be rather “good” people, when the subject of “filial piety” comes up, the tune often changes. This is especially true around the time of the Qingming Festival. Many people believe that Christians do not practice filial piety because of their reluctance to participate in traditional Chinese customs surrounding the veneration of ancestors.
It is not the case, however, that Christians are not truly "filial;" rather their expression of "filial piety" differs from traditional Chinese practices. In fact, the Christians emphasize filial piety as much as others do. This is because devout Christians base their lives on the foundation of the Ten Commandments. The fifth commandment, which is "honor your father and mother," is the first of the Ten Commandments that references mankind's relationship with others (the first four explain God's relationship with mankind).
Christians also remember their ancestors, albeit in ways that are different from traditional Chinese culture. While others burn incense and bow at graves, Christians participate in local memorial services to remember the lives and beautiful testimonies of their ancestors.
The Beijing Christian church is not the only one that holds memorial services. Last year the Zhongshan City Christian Church in Guangdong Province also held a Qingming tomb sweeping service that included a choral ensemble and a sermon given by the pastor. About 800 people from all of the city's various churches attended.
In fact, Christians commemorate the death of a person just as much as any other group of people. In addition, they have a great deal of respect for the physical body of a person who has died. According to records from the early church, which first appeared in the 2nd century AD, those Christians believed that "to deprive a person of an honorable funeral was a terrible thing."
This is one reason that Christianity attaches great importance to cemeteries, something that many non-Christians and even many new Christian believers probably do not understand. Indeed, the foreign missionaries to China in the early 20th century established a number of Christian cemeteries. Although they have experienced great changes, there are still many places that have preserved Christian cemeteries, such as Beijing, Kaifeng, Zhongshan, to name a few.
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