The following story, though fictitious, is based largely upon events and situations we have witnessed while living in China.
“How much do you charge to go to SheXing mountain?”
“SheXing mountain?!” was the startled response. “If you’re wanting me to take you to SheXing mountain, I’ll need at least 30RMB. After all, I’ll have to eat a couple of red eggs when I get home tonight after going there.”
The motorcycle taxi driver spoke with a spooked look about him and continued, “And don’t expect me to take you all the way up either. I’ll get you to the temple just through the gate. You’ll have to walk the rest of way up.”
“Walk the rest of the way up? You expect me to do that?” retorted Lily. She looked down at her newly purchased bag of apples. The eight apples could still be seen through the red of the plastic bag in the sunlight.
“How am I supposed to make the hike up the rest of the trail with these plus this large bouquet in hand?” she thought.
“I’ll do it for 30RMB and take you all the way up!” came another voice just a distance away.
Looking over the driver’s shoulder, Lily spotted the source of the voice. A second motorcycle taxi driver figured he would capitalize on the first driver’s superstitions. He had them too, but he wasn’t as bothered by the prospect of having to make two red eggs that evening.
“Sold!” said Lily both relieved and in disbelief. Relieved that she could get to SheXing mountain and get this over with and in disbelief at the price of getting there. She would have taken her own motorbike, but driving up the mountain trail with the apples and bouquet was something she wasn’t interested in, particularly with the teeming crowds of people that were expected to make the same pilgrimage today.
She hopped on the back of the second driver’s motorcycle and sped off, leaving the first driver’s counter offer of 25RMB to fade in the distance.
Approaching the bottom of SheXing, the throngs of people awaiting her at the top became real as Lily noticed all the cars parked along the streets at the base. Swarms of other motorcycle taxis could be seen flowing in and out the gate near the temple. Those headed in carried people with hands full of supplies similar to Lily’s – fruit, incense, flowers, firecrackers, and hell money. Those headed out carried empty-handed people – some wiping away tears and some with solemn stares.
Once through the gate, it was slow moving for a good fifteen to twenty minutes as Lily’s driver had to squeeze her through the crowds of pedestrians, cars, and motorcycles.
Nearing the “top”, thoughts of similar scenes from the past few years flooded Lily’s mind. The color red mixed with the smell of firecrackers can bring back various memories for Chinese people – memories of Chinese New Year festivities, memories of weddings, and memories of other milestones. But when the sound of uncontrollable weeping is thrown into that mix, it can only mean one thing – QingMing Festival.
It never occured to Lily that naming such a day a “festival” was odd. There wasn’t much festive about it. It was a day of remembering. A day of bittersweet remembering, whether she particularly wanted to or not.
Finally reaching the top, Lily got off the motorcycle and, after paying her driver, made the final trek up a few rows of headstones and down to the one with her family name etched in the corner.
She paused, and lowered her head in quiet reflection. As quiet as she could be, at least, given the hysteria surrounding her. People were crying, praying, and lighting firecrackers all about.
After a few seconds, she laid the bouquet in place and began unpacking the apples, carefully setting them in a bowl and placing it before the tombstone.
Placing a stick of incense in the apples so as to stick straight up and out from between them, she lit the incense, knelt down with hands folded, and prayed.
“Dad…Mom…” she began. “It’s me…I miss you!”
There was a long pause as the tears began to flow and the sobbing commenced.
“Why were they taken from me so suddenly?” she thought. They died immediately along with the drunk that crashed into them that night those six years ago. “Why couldn’t it have been someone else?! Why did it have to be them?”
After regaining some of her composure, she continued.
“So much has happened since last year…”
After divulging a few of the year’s high points along with its many struggles, she bowed a couple of times. With the incense about burned to its end, she stood up, brushed off her knees, and began checking her purse to be sure she had another 30RMB for the ride home.
As she made her way through the lamenting crowds, she couldn’t help but think to herself – even over the sound of firecrackers and prayers.
“Is this it? Is this all that there is to life? Am I to be consigned to a similar fate one day myself with my prospect laid in the ground and only my future child to visit me once a year?
“Where’s the hope? Where’s the meaning in it all?” she wondered. “Is there not anything worth living for beyond the tomb?”
Just as her thoughts were getting more philosophical, the sound of a group of motorcycle taxis bidding for her ride home snapped her out of all the burning questions.
She had survived yet another personal inquisition, at least until next year…
QingMing Festival, or better known as Tomb Sweeping Festival in English, is fast approaching in China. This year, it will be celebrated on Friday, April 5. The yearly holiday is a day for China’s billions to live out their Confucian beliefs concerning familial piety (devotion to family, particularly elders) by paying their respects to their deceased parents and grandparents.
This is traditionally done by bringing food – usually fruit – to the graves of the deceased so that they will have something good to eat in the afterlife. Incense is often burned while praying and worshipping, and firecrackers are often lit to scare off evil spirits that might otherwise haunt the deceased in the thereafter.
All of this is done year after year in the Spring and is a source of fear and hopelessness for many Chinese. Most of them have never heard of the other tomb. That tomb is the cause of much celebration and is also widely celebrated each Spring. Their tombs are hopeless and occupied, but that tomb is empty and points us to eternal life!
Many of them have never heard of the empty tomb of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who came into this world to die for sinners. To die so that everyone – even Chinese people – can have life and hope and joy.
While we Christians rejoice, preparing to celebrate the Resurrection of Christ in just a few short weeks, in just a few short days millions upon millions of Chinese will once again have to remember the hopelessness of life that ends in death. For them, death is all there is beyond the grave because they have never heard the glad tidings of the gospel!
This week, please pray for China’s billions. Pray that the Lord would raise up more laborers to take the message of the empty tomb to them! Pray that the believers in China would have boldness to preach the light of Christ and Him crucified and risen again amid the darkness around them so that many Chinese could be saved and find the hope of resurrection and eternal life in Him!”
“Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” (John 14:6)