Stories From Mount Hope: Ching Ming Festival 2022
April 5, 2022, is the date for the Ching Ming Festival this year. Known as Tomb-Sweeping Day in English, it is a day when people of Chinese descent visit the tombs of their ancestors to clean the gravesites. The Ching Ming Festival traditionally takes place on the 15th day after the Spring Equinox (April 4, 5, or 6). This year, Tomb Sweeping Day is April 5. The date of the festival is indicated on the Chinese calendar by the two characters: ching, meaning pure or clean, and ming, meaning brightness. Combined together, Ching Ming means clean and just.
Since 1930, more than 1,500 Chinese Bostonians have been buried at Mount Hope Cemetery, including some of the original immigrants from China who settled in the Boston area. The Chinese people have always revered their ancestors and predecessors. One way of honoring the dead is to maintain their gravesites. Several times a year, the Chinese visit burial sites to clean the graves, burn incense, and make offerings of “money,” “gold,” and food.
Over the years, the Chinese burial grounds at Mount Hope (in particular the three oldest sections) fell into disrepair. In 2007, the Chinese Historical Society of New England (CHSNE) dedicated a Chinese Immigrant Memorial adjacent to some of the original Chinese gravesites in the cemetery (near the intersection of Webster and Lee Avenues). The memorial is made up of three sections—an archway, walkway, and altar.
Created by local architect Joo Kun Lim — with input from Boston’s Chinese community — the design is unmistakably modern. When asked about it, the architect explained, “The more modern design has to do with giving [the immigrants] a place in their new home, and that it’s almost 100 years after some of them died. It has to reflect where they are today.”
Approaching the Memorial, the first thing you likely notice is the two marble foo dog sculptures at the base of the entrance arch. Not original to the design, the foo dogs — one male and one female — are often found flanking the entranceway of palaces, Buddhist temples, government buildings, and even some private residences. The male foo dog (as you’re looking at the entrance archway, the male is on the left) rests one paw on a ball, while the female stands over a tiny cub. Believed to ward off evil, the dogs protect the inhabitants of the structure they guard. Another identical pair of foo dogs is installed at the Chinatown Gate in downtown Boston.
The base of the entrance archway, as well as the path leading into the space, are constructed of red brick. The arch itself is capped by a contrasting trellis of steel. Two single-seat wooden benches with character-incised granite panels complete the entrance design.
Behind the entrance archway is a monumental altar. The altar is faced with pink granite panels and engraved Chinese calligraphy. Waist-high on the altar is a sandy trough intended for the burning of incense sticks, while a cylindrical steel container in front of the altar is designated for burning joss paper (paper “money”). The memorial’s materials and placement represent the five elements of wood, fire, earth, metal, and water.
The calligraphy on the entrance arch and altar are Chinese adages that describe the intent of the memorial (“remembering those who came before you”), the long journey of the Chinese immigrants (“long rivers flow from distant origins”), and the immigrants’ lasting impact in America (“abundant leaves flourish from deep roots”).
Since its founding in 1992, CHSNE has worked to identify those buried at Mount Hope. A bilingual database with over 1,400 records is now available on the CHSNE website. The purpose of the database is to help individuals track down their ancestors who are interred at the cemetery.
Written by Laura Sitterley, with editorial assistance from Sally Ebeling, April 2022
The Stories of Mount Hope blog features periodic posts on a variety of topics concerning historic Mount Hope Cemetery. This blog is hoping to unearth the hidden stories of Mount Hope Cemetery. Please let us know if there is something you think should be highlighted by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org