Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Sweeping Into Spring with the Qingming Festival

Ah, springtime: birds chirping, flowers blooming, children frolicking, and families burning money in the cemetery…  

Yes, the first springtime holiday in the Chinese calendar is Qingming Jie 清明節, which literally translates to the “Clear Brightness Festival” but may be more appropriately called “The Tomb-Sweeping Festival.” During this festival, Chinese people traditionally celebrate the renewed vitality of springtime by giving thanks to the previous generations who gave them life.

The fifteenth day after the Spring Equinox, which is April 5 in 2014, Chinese people all over the world will flock to cemeteries to pay respects to their ancestors and clean up their tombs or grave sites. Here in San Diego, many Chinese Americans gather at Mount Hope Cemetery where a section traditionally has been reserved for burying Chinese.

Previously, all of these remains would be removed and shipped back to China every ten or fifteen years, posthumously being returning them to their ancestral homes for reburial, but the communist government put an end to this practice in 1949. Traditionally, families would take an excursion to grave sites in the hills outside town, and in China today, millions of urban dwellers flood into buses and trains to return to the rural villages they once called home in order to honor of their ancestors. Then and now, Qingming Jie involves a return to the past and nature.

Some cultures recognize the dead with spooky autumn holidays like Halloween or Dia de los Muertos, when the dead are said to visit the living, but Qingming is a bright springtime holiday, when families pay a visit to the peaceful resting place of their bygone ancestors. In addition to solemn traditions like bowing before ancestors’ graves, clearing weeds and leaving fresh flowers, burning incense and simulated paper money, and making offerings of food, tea, and liquor, other Qingming festivities include typical springtime amusements like picnicking and kite-flying. This holiday is a chance for living and dead alike to enjoy family time in the countryside.

This holiday is  captured most famously in Zhang Zeduan’s 張擇端 (1085-1148) painting “Along the River During Qingming Festival” 清明上河圖. This masterpiece, which various painters copied over the next several centuries, displays the various classes of traditional China, from scholars in long robes and officials' caps to peasants bent under heavy loads in broad-brimmed hats, enjoying themselves and retreating to the countryside to enjoy the holiday. So much has changed since the time of the original painting and the Qing Dynasty 清朝 copy prepared by five painters in the courty of the Qianlong 乾隆 Emperor (1711-1799) seen here, but people still enjoy many of the same activities today. As the weather warms this spring, we and our sponsors at SDG&E urge you to turn off your electronics, get outside, enjoy the fresh air, and return to the simpler pleasures of our ancestors. You could pay respects to your own departed ancestors at a local cemetery, just take your living family for a walk in the park, or enjoy including fishing, boating, painting, or picnicking as Chinese painters depicted so long ago. Visiting graves honors those who came before, outdoor revelry entertains us in the present, and conserving energy shows respect to our descendants. 

Friday, February 7, 2014

Celebrating Chinese New Year all year long

Xin Nian Kuai Le 新年快乐 and welcome to the Year of the Horse! 

If you didn't know, Downtown San Diego has an amazing annual event in celebration of Chinese New Year hosted by the San Diego Chinese Center and SDCHM, your favorite Chinese historical museum, will be at the heart of all the festivities!
As a kick off to the 32nd Annual Chinese New Year Food and Cultural Fair, I will be highlighting two amazing artifacts in the museum’s collection relating to Chinese New Year. 

Chinese New Year Dragon
Upon first entering the museum, you will be greeted with a long Chinese dragon.  This lucky red dragon welcomes guests with a large benevolent smile and a long body with gold and colorful scales that leads to the hallway towards the Chaung Garden entrance.  In Chinese tradition, dragons such as this are used in a "dragon dance" during Chinese New Year and other celebrations, and is meant to bring good luck to all.  It is also believed that the longer the dragon is, the more luck it brings!

This Chinese dragon has made a few appearances during the Chinese New Year Food & Cultural fair in past years but this year the museum has added him to the permanent collection in the Mission Building where he can be enjoyed all year long. This beautiful piece was generously donated by the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association of San Diego.

Chinese New Year Model
One of the museum's more popular pieces in the collection is a model of a traditional Chinese New Year celebration in  China. 

The model gives an amazing view at the traditional highlights of the celebration including a parade with lion dancers, dragon dancers, jugglers, food carts, and more, as well as a peek at a family inside their home.  The adults in this model look upset because they are arranging their children's marriage.  Younger children, who are found throughout the room, are enjoying themselves as they play mahjong on the floor.

This piece, along with a number of other models in the museum, was created by a local educator named Lois Whitner.  She is also the artist who created the Turf Saloon and Gim Wing & Woo Chee Chong models at the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Memorial Extension. 

Magnolia in Bloom

We here at the museum know Chinese New Year is approaching when the beautiful magnolia trees in the Chuang Garden begin to bloom.  Do you celebrate Chinese New Year?  We would love to know how you enjoy this wonderful Chinese tradition!  Tell us on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram!

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Ah Quin, The Lost Art of Journaling, and Energy Conservation

Reading through Ah Quin’s journals in preparation for a new museum exhibit, (Ah Quin: Life,Leadership, and Legacy opening on January 25, 2014), I picture the young immigrant who would become unofficial mayor of San Diego's Chinatown writing entries by candlelight on a steamship or in a coal-mining camp, and wonder if he ever could have imagined that someone would be reading his photocopied words one hundred years later. He might have hoped that his descendants would read his diary to learn about their ancestors and how their family arrived in the United States, but could he have imagined that historians and anthropologists would pore over his every word to write dissertations and curate museum exhibits?

Most of Ah Quin’s journal entries consist of the minutiae of daily life, what time he woke up, what he cooked for various meals, what Bible passages he studied. One would suspect he kept such dull records only for himself, as an exercise to practice his written language skills, but nowadays people feel the need to share such mundane information with the world via a growing array of social media. Ah Quin’s journal takes us back to a simpler time when people kept daily diaries as an act of introspection, not self-promotion; a way to polish one’s English, not bastardize it with acronyms and emoticons; and a legacy to leave for future generations, not just a collection of pithy remarks to be cast off into cyberspace and forgotten.

Of course, many people still keep diaries today, but how many still do it with old-fashioned pen and paper? In this age, Doogie Howser typing white words on a giant blue-screened IBM monitor seems archaic, so putting a simple pen to paper can be surprisingly refreshing. Why not unplug oneself from laptops and smartphones, sit down with a paper notebook, and write. No cutting and pasting, no control-z to undo, no posting, pinning, poking, liking, or sharing, just writing for the sake of writing. Admire your handwriting on the page, write something silly that happened to you, write your innermost thoughts without fear that anyone will read them, or write how good it feels to partake in an activity that requires zero electricity, fossil fuels, or wireless internet. The museum has partnered with SDG&E since 2012 to encourage readers to decrease energy usage, and journaling is yet another opportunity to reduce your use.

Keeping a journal can help you reflect on life, vent emotions, and celebrate little victories, and it also can have the practical purpose of helping you keep track of your daily struggle to conserve energy. You can note every little effort you make to reduce your use, and those of you here in San Diego can see how much you are saving on your power bill with SDG&E’s mobile app. This tool allows you to log in
to your SDG&E account, see an overview of your daily use of gas and electricity, and peruse your past usage eight days at a time. You can even calculate how much using each household appliance costs you each month.

Of course, Ah Quin wrote his journals before SDG&E existed, before households were wired for gas and electricity, before people began to realize that natural resources were finite, and long before anyone could conceive of a mobile app. It is safe to say that Ah Quin never imagined the ways in which his journal would be used, nor could he have imagined how people of today can use their journals. So keep in mind that no computer virus, electromagnetic pulse, or crashed hard drive can ever destroy your paper journal. And just maybe, one or two hundred years from now, scholars will study your words of wisdom, be fascinated by your daily habits, and admire your efforts to conserve the precious resources that have long since vanished.