The Qingming Festival, also known as Tomb-sweeping Day, on which Chinese traditionally visited their ancestors' tombs, is coming. But many are worried that China's cultural heritage is being lost under a tide of Westernization and modernity. Can traditions survive? What's the value of ancient customs? The Global Times invited three writers to discuss these topics.
Traditions always change with the times
By Zhou Sitian
As the Qingming Festival approaches, people across China are making preparation to recall lost family members. Due to the considerable flow of people, many places have adopted transportation control policies. In Guangzhou, firecrackers are banned in cemeteries, and only electronic firecrackers are allowed, provided for free at the cemeteries.
They imitate the light and sound of traditional firecrackers, but don't cause injuries or pollution. It's natural that public controversy has been stirred up. After all, firecrackers are a long-standing tradition, and the way people pay respect to their dead relatives has to change now.
Some argue that electronic firecrackers and other technological products kill the atmosphere that people used to be able to feel through igniting traditional firecrackers, burning paper money and wearing willow twigs.
But like it or not, the fading and even dying of traditions is already taking place. In cities, there is no way that every family can maintain a cemetery plot. Rapid urbanization and the massive population make finding housing for living people quite tight, not to mention the dead.
In rural China, land usage is equally strained, and the memory of where ancestral cemeteries are has often been lost. For many Chinese nowadays, the most feasible way is probably to display a small sacrificial altar at home, and commemorate their lost family members during festivals and memorial days.
Tradition is a relative concept. It is a way of expressing past experiences in human history. When a way is no longer feasible in current social conditions, it has to change. Safeguarding tradition means sticking to values, not necessarily particular old forms. And new traditions are always being fostered.
In the wake of the Wenchuan earthquake in 2008, Chinese across the nation found many ways to mourn those victims.
For me, the most impressive way was the special sections in every major portal website. People wrote down their words online, ignited candles and presented banquets of flowers in the online halls.
These methods, together with electronic firecrackers, will someday become traditions for the following generations.
The author is a lawyer based in Shanghai. firstname.lastname@example.org