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Jizu Festival:China Day for Ancestor Worship

Updated on October 29, 2011
Confucius | Source

Today, i.e. October 27th , is October 1st in Chinese lunar calendar, which is the Day for people to offer a sacrifice to their ancestors. The ancient philosopher, Kongzi (孔子) or Confucius, who has become world-famous in present day, had the thought of loyalty and filial piety, i.e. a loyalty to social mainstream (exclusively referred to the emperor in ancient time) and a respect for the parents and ancestors, which is considered the first virtue in Chinese culture. Ancestor worship represents filial piety and never forgetting the family root.

October 1st is basically the first day of the winter, and it is getting colder and colder. People believe that ancestors in another world also need clothes to defense the harsh weather and money for an ease life. Therefore, they sacrifice fine food in front of tombs of ancestors, and cremate joss paper (a paper made to resemble money and burned as an offering to the dead) and a special clothes for the deceased, which are called "sending joss paper" and "sending winter coat", while October 1st is also called "the Day for burning clothes".

At a time, "burning winter coat" had developed to "burning package". People packed the joss paper in a paper bag with the names of the acceptor and the sender on it, then burnt it, because people believed that the deceased can buy anything in that world, just as they do in this world. Today, "burning joss paper" has become the basic form of worshipping ancestors with that superstition.

Joss Paper
Joss Paper | Source
Golden joss paper in the form of ancient real gold money (yuanbao)
Golden joss paper in the form of ancient real gold money (yuanbao) | Source

There was a legend, but might be real, about the background of "burning paper money". It is well-known that it was Cailun in China Song dynasty who invented the paper. Caimo, the brother of Cailun, used to learn how to produce paper from him, and then Caimo started a paper business. However, his paper was not in good quality, and he was in danger of bankruptcy. His wife, Hui Niang, came up with an idea. In one middle night, Hui Niang "died of" a cute disease. Caimo looked so sad at the casket with mourners beside. He burnt those papers he produced as spoke to the dead woman, "it was all my fault. I learnt to produce paper from my brother, but I did not pay much attention to it. I cannot produce good paper, which made you angry to death. I am now burning all of these papers, and hope you can feel better." At the time, the weird thing happened. Hui Niang cried in the casket, "open the cover to let me out." All people then and there were petrified with fear. Hui Niang got out from the casket and spoke in an affected way that those paper burnt by her husband became money in the hell, and she bribed the ghost officials, then they sent her back. She immediately generously sent a lot paper to those mourners. Finally, this story was accepted as a reality. People were rushing to buy the non-qualified paper of the Cais to send to their late relatives. Then, there raised specified industry to produce the "money for the underground world". It was said that the day when Hui Niang came back from the hell was October 1st, and sending "money" by burning to ancestors on October 1st had developed into a general custom handed down from generation to generation.

Whether the legend is real or not, this custom passes the cultural meaning of filial piety in Confucianism. The Day is only for the ancestors. As for other deceased relatives and friends or respectable people unrelated, there is a "Ji Ri" that is the day when the departed dies, and another more serious Day, Qingming Festival. If people live in the place where the departed was buried, they go to the tomb; if people live in the place away, they burn "money" in the direction to the place where the departed was buried, or make a room for late people they memorized, which is called "Ling Tang", i.e. Funeral Hall.

Worshipping at the tomb
Worshipping at the tomb | Source


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    • Hui (蕙) profile image

      Hui (蕙) 6 years ago

      Beijing driver, thank you for liking my article. And I used to study in Beijin for three years. I love it and miss it. Someday when I go back, I may take your drive.

    • beijing driver profile image

      Xin Ping 6 years ago from Beijing, China

      I like your article and warmly welcome to visit Beijing when you feel free.

    • Hui (蕙) profile image

      Hui (蕙) 6 years ago

      Hi, A.A.Zavala, so glad to see you here, and thank you for enjoying these tales and my dishes.

    • A.A. Zavala profile image

      Augustine A Zavala 6 years ago from Texas

      Another fascinating tidbit about China. I enjoy these tales so much! And the dishes you share on facebook! Thank you again!

    • Hui (蕙) profile image

      Hui (蕙) 6 years ago

      Thank you, stephaniedas, for stopping by. Ancestors had their wisdom, from which we learn much.

    • stephaniedas profile image

      Stephanie Das 6 years ago from Miami, US

      I didn't know all of this about China! Thanks for sharing.