I traveled to the northern part of Malaysia with my wife so that she could perform the Cheng Beng with her brother and other family members in early April 2017.
Cheng Beng (Qing Ming in Mandarin), falls on the third month of the lunar calendar and usually coincides with the 4th or 5th of April it is one of the big events in the Chinese calendar. This is Chinese equivalent of All Souls’ Day.
During this month, relatives visit cemeteries and temples to clean the ancestral graves, remember and reflect on those that have departed and make food offerings to the spirits of their departed loved ones. The family burn paper money and paper replicas of material goods such as cars, homes, phones and anything else that may be of use. In Chinese culture, it is believed that souls of the departed still need all of those things in the afterlife. Family members take turns to kowtow three to nine times before the tomb of the ancestors. Kowtowing ritual in front of the grave is performed in the order of patriarchal seniority within the family.
As an observer I noticed that each family, large or small performed the Cheng Beng in various ways. Some were modest and other lavish. The burning of paper money and various offerings soon created a very smoky atmospheric environment.
I also visited a Buddhist Temple to watch and observe the same ritual. Personally I found the Temple setting more spiritual and moving than the cemetery version as Buddhist monks were present, this seemed to me to give an air of authenticity.
The monks gather around a families offerings and begin chanting (sounded like a Gregorian chant) whilst family members knelt and assumed the praying position while the chanting was taking place. The chanting, burning of joss sticks and the burning of paper offerings tied the whole event together.