SOME Chinese families clamour to place the first joss sticks at ancestral graves. They believe that those who place the first joss sticks will earn the most blessings. Others believe that in order to foster good ties and a spirit of family reunion, family members should try and go in one group to pay respects during Qingming.
“It is not the first joss sticks that are stuck on the grave that bring good luck to the descendants,” says feng shui master Louis Loh. It is only a myth. Worshipping ancestors at the tomb is only to pay respects and to remember them.
The same goes with the belief that married daughters are not allowed to visit their parents graves for fear they take away the good feng shui or family’s luck. This is not true, Loh says.
Rather, Loh explains that the tombstone location already predetermines the luck of the descendants.
That is why, he says, tombstone locations with good feng shui come with hefty prices.
Loh says that from the tombstone looking outwards, if the mountain on the left side (Green Dragon position) is higher than the right side, the tomb feng shui favours the sons of the family. If the mountain of the right side (White Tiger position) is higher than the left, the daughters will reap better luck and fortune.
To benefit all descendants, Loh explains, the tomb should face a distant mountain range that is not too high (not higher than one’s eyebrows). There should be mountains in front and at the back of the tomb. The tomb should be facing a water element (natural body of water such as lake or river and in the case of memorial parks, perhaps, a man-made pool) to ensure wealth for the descendants.
If graves are not facing any mountains and water, or do not have a countryside landscape around it, it must have at least face an auspicious direction, he says.
Some Chinese believe that tomb visits should be made very early in the morning, preferably before the crack of dawn. Not necessarily so, says Loh.
“It is not practical to visit tombs before sunrise because it is still dark and one may trip and fall.”
However, these days, many families still head to the cemetery very early in the morning to avoid the mid-day scorching sun.
The characters on Chinese tombstones are usually written in gold, black and red. In a double burial plot, one side may have characters written in red while the other side, in black. The red characters denote that the tomb is reserved for the person who is still living. The black, gold or green denote that the person is already demised and buried in the tomb, Loh says.
The family members should repaint the red characters to black, gold or green if the other parent also passes away.
Green characters on a tombstone denote that the dialect group of the family is Teochew.
Sometimes fire crackers are lit during a tomb visit but that is only a cultural practice.
He says: “It has nothing to do with feng shui (or reaping good fortune).”
Offerings of food to one’s ancestors should be opened when placed at the grave, and not left wrapped in clingwrap, to show sincerity.
Whether these offerings are left at the graves or taken home to be distributed to family members and eaten together is not an issue, he says.
Some families, out of goodwill, will also offer jossticks to neighbouring graves during Qingming. They are inviting the spirits of the departed to also join in the partaking of the offerings.
Loh says it is out of good heart that these families also appease other spirits of nearby graves.
Loh advises women not to wear skimpy clothing when visiting graves to show respect to the departed.
He also says it is taboo to make any remarks. “Don’t say, ‘How beautiful this person is or how unfortunate she died young,’ The spirit of the deceased may just follow you home!” he warns.