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Tin Yau Yee at his ancestral grave site
Tin Yau Yee honors his ancestors by spelling whiskey on the ancestral grave, April 1994. Photo: Doug S.Y. Young

Ching Ming Tradition in Hawai'i

With origins dating back 3,000 years, the practice of Ching Ming is still observed worldwide by Chinese families, many miles and generations removed from their ancestral homeland. Ching meaning "pure" or "clean," Ming meaning "brightness," the words together are applied to the traditional Chinese tradition of ancestor worship, considered by many to be the original religion of China. Confucius stated: Filial piety is the law of the universe, the righteousness on earth, and the correct path of human behavior. According to anthropologist Francis L.K. Su, ancestor worship is based on three basic assumptions: 1) all good fortune or misfortune of a person is derived from the shadows of his ancestors; 2) all departed ancestors have still the same physical needs they had when alive; 3) the departed can assist their relatives in the "Outer World," i.e., earth.

Through countless generations these beliefs have guided the practices of Ching Ming, which have evolved to include the trimming of overgrown foliage, weeding, cleaning, repairing and replanting of ancestral gravesites, ceremonies involving the presentation of food and symbolic representations of earthly possessions, and rituals associated with honoring ones ancestors. It is not necessarily a time of sadness, but reflection, remembrance and communion with past generations. Held on the fourth day of April, the event often becomes a family reunion at the graves of one's ancestors. Another facet of Ching Ming is the placing of altars in the home for the daily honoring of the family line.

Often, because of Western Christian influences, Ching Ming is today observed more as a traditional and cultural practice rather than a religious practice. In Hawaii, the practice has retained a stronger presence than in other parts of the United States. Customs here include the burning of incense, offering of prayers, placing foods on the grave, and burning symbolic paper money. Foods laid out on the grave may include fruit, rice, wine, chicken, pork, cakes, tea, and dim sum. Sometimes, along with the food offering, whiskey is spilled on the gravesite. A meal may be eaten at the gravesite as a gesture of sharing with deceased relatives.

The Hawaiian Chinese Multicultural Museum & Archives has documented their project with a five-page written report, a transcription of a Honolulu Advertiser newspaper from April 1984, an information sheet on the Museum & Archives, and ten 8 x 10 color photographs with captions.

Originally submitted by: Daniel K. Inouye, Senator Daniel K. Akaka, Senator Neil Abercrombie, Representative (1st District) & Patsy T. Mink,Representative (2nd District).

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The Local Legacies project provides a "snapshot" of American Culture as it was expressed in spring of 2000. Consequently, it is not being updated with new or revised information with the exception of "Related Website" links.

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