Museum teaches kids about Qingming

Updated: 2014-04-07 10:51

By Amy He in New York (China Daily USA)

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Museum teaches kids about Qingming

The first weekend in April marked the beginning of the annual Qingming Festival — also called Tomb Sweeping Day — a time when Chinese families gather to pay respect to their ancestors, and New York's Museum of Chinese in America (MOCA) brought families together to learn more about one of the biggest cultural events in China.

Kids and their parents learned more about what Chinese do during Qingming and participated in storytelling and arts and crafts. Attendees were treated to a puppetry performance by Hua Hua Visual Expressions. One workshop for kids allowed them to design their own kites and then fly them at a nearby park, which is often a Qingming past time.

The Qingming Festival is one of four major family events that MOCA puts together to celebrate Chinese culture, the others being Lunar New Year, Dragon Boat Festival and the Mid-Autumn Festival. The Qingming event has been held every year since 2010.

"Often times [attendees] are those who want to find out more about the holiday," said Lauren Nechamkin, education manager at MOCA. "And this one, while prominent for Chinese people and Chinese Americans, is not as well-known amongst the American crowd, so it's a great way to get an introduction.

"Most people didn't know what the whole ritual was, of going to the cemetery and what you would bring and why everything is symbolic," Nechamkin told China Daily. "The idea of flying kites and setting them free. All of that was new to them."

The Lunar New Year family festival traditionally gets the biggest crowds, according to Nechamkin, who said the Lunar New Year festival this year attracted around 550 people.

But it is important to teach people about the Qingming festival as well. "This is a holiday where everybody goes to the graves. It's all about remembering your past, and you're conjuring these identities, because their identity is your identity," she said.

Hua Ye, a 19-year-old student at New York University who hails from Hangzhou, China, said that before she came to New York for school, she would go deep into the mountainous areas of Hangzhou for Qingming every year. It was an all-day event for her family, driving up and then climbing the mountain.

"People should definitely hold on to this tradition, especially young people," she said. "To me, remembering my family's history is like a certificate of my own existence."

Similarly, Vietnamese-Chinese-American student Maggie Tien embarks on Qingming festivities every year with her family as well. Her extended family drives to Upstate New York every year to burn incense, offer food to the deceased and afterward cap the day off with a big family dinner.

"It depends if you're a family-oriented person, and I am, so I participate," the 21-year-old Baruch College student said. "Knowing your roots is important."

Samson Hung, who was born in Hong Kong but raised in New York, said his family didn't partake in Qingming activities, but he wished they did. Hung, who goes to John Jay College in New York, said his grandparents are buried in Hong Kong and died when he was young, so he said that Qingming would have been a good time to connect with family he didn't know.

"It would have been good to have the bonding experience," he said.

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