Premier Christy Clark, Minister Responsible for Multiculturalism Teresa Wat and community leaders gathered today at Vancouver’s Mountain View Cemetery to honour Chinese ancestors and the community for their contributions to British Columbia as part of a Qingming Festival ceremony.
Qingming, also known as Tomb Sweeping Day, falls on April 4 this year in the Chinese lunar calendar. It is a day dedicated to paying respect to family ancestors. Families travel to their ancestors’ graves to clean the sites, plant new flowers, pay respects and offer food. The primary motivations are to honour the deceased and the legacies of how their actions have shaped their descendants.
“It is an honour to participate in the Qingming Festival ceremony and pay respect to the Chinese Canadians who helped build and shape our province,” Premier Clark said. “Today, B.C. is the most welcoming and culturally-diverse province in Canada, which not only makes for vibrant communities but a competitive advantage. This ceremony is a symbol of our appreciation and acknowledges their many contributions to our province.”
This is the first time a Canadian premier is believed to have participated in a Qingming ceremony in Canada, a historical ceremony with deep roots in Chinese history and tradition.
Clearing debris away from a headstone, or cleaning or pruning grass or overgrowth is a common part of the Qingming Festival practice, as well as “kowtowing” – the act of bowing in respect – which is done by every family member. This ceremony is still practised today throughout British Columbia.
Bringing offerings is central to the grave-site visit because the belief is that at this moment in the calendar, the passage to the other world – where the spirits of the ancestors reside – is open. Bringing food, as well as other objects, means that they can be delivered to deceased family members.
“As a Chinese British Columbian, today’s Qingming Festival ceremony is especially poignant for me,” Wat said. “It is a sacred ritual that I have participated in myself for my own family. Today’s ceremony is also about recognizing how, despite past hardships, Chinese Canadians helped shape this great province into what it is today, and that by working together, we can build an even better future.”
Today’s ceremony flows from the B.C. legislature’s apology for historical wrongs on May 15, 2014. A consultation report was released at the time of the apology, which outlined eight legacy projects to help celebrate the contributions of Chinese Canadians to the history, culture and economic prosperity of B.C.
The B.C. government appointed the Legacy Initiatives Advisory Council (LIAC) to assist with the implementation of the legacy projects. The council works with Chinese Canadian communities and other key partners to advise government on project implementation and to ensure that the projects are known and communicated throughout the province.
“Last year, the Legacy Initiatives Advisory Council was proud to be a part of the B.C. government’s first-ever Qingming ceremony,” said David Choi, LIAC co-chair and national executive chair of the National Congress of Chinese Canadians. “We are pleased to see the community come together and, for the first time in Canadian history, a premier and minister attending a Chinese cemetery to pay respect to the early settlers and Chinese pioneers who made significant contributions under challenging past conditions to the history, culture and prosperity of this province. This is a day that sets another fine example that British Columbia has evolved and that Chinese Canadians and British Columbians can be proud.”
Chinese Canadians have a long history in British Columbia and we are proud of the positive legacies they have created for their descendants and for all British Columbians,” said Dr. Henry Yu, LIAC co-chair. “We have been busy over the last 18 months completing legacy initiative projects that pay respect in substantive and meaningful ways to the rich history and contribution of Chinese Canadians to the province. Today’s Qingming ceremony is an appropriate way to symbolically recognize and acknowledge the debt we owe to those who came before us and paved the way through their blood and sweat.”
The B.C. government believes that a rich multicultural society helps nurture acceptance, understanding and mutual respect. Cultural diversity, increased participation and engagement by all cultures are vitally important in creating a strong and vibrant social and economic future for British Columbia.