How will Malaysians be observing Qing Ming amid the Covid-19 pandemic?

Chinese visit the graves of departed loved ones to pay their respects during Qing Ming festival at Kwong Tong cemetry in Kuala Lumpur. Photo: The Star/Filepic

It remains uncertain when or how Malaysians will perform their Qing Ming rituals this year as Chinese cemeteries and columbariums all over the country are supporting our government’s crisis management efforts by announcing closure and prohibition of public praying activities.

So, StarLifestyle spoke to Malaysians who are mulling over the general advisory from authorities and community leaders to put their Qing Ming plans on hold this year or switch to performing ancestral rites at home.

Supermarket cashier Kate Lai, 32, said: “We usually go and pay our respects to our grandmother at the Kwong Tong Cemetery Columbarium Complex on a weekday morning because my siblings are working. But since the advisory advocates that people stay home to pray, we will do that first and make up for it after the Covid-19 situation improves.”

Ride-hailing app driver B.T. Ding, 46, said: “It looks like I may have to skip tomb-sweeping this year because of the MCO. Since I am from Sarawak, flying back would require me to be self-quarantined for 14 days, which is not a viable option for me. I cannot afford to stop working for so many days, so I will probably have to cancel my plans for Qing Ming at my hometown this time.”

Also read: Planes, durians and steam boat sets: Qing Ming gifts for the dearly departed

As for public relations officer, Cherry Yau, 28, “My family always does our prayers at home first before going to visit our grandfather at Nirvana Centre, anyway. So, it won’t change much for us this year. We will just continue with our prayers at home and then visit him later when the situation improves.”

Retired teacher TC Wong, 83, said: “So many cemeteries in Penang are closed now and people have been told not to go out. Friends and family members keep reminding us that we are supposedly at higher risk because we are senior citizens. So, my sister and I will be waiting to see how the situation turns out before we decide what to do next.”

Retail supervisor Vienna Kam, 52, doubted that people will cancel their plans for Qing Ming.

"Our ancestors are waiting for our annual visit. Tomb-sweeping is a tradition we must uphold. Otherwise, we may lose the protection of our ancestors. Perhaps each family can send a representative, so that fewer people will go out.”

Commenting on the current concern about how Malaysians will be conducting Qing Ming this year, Dr Ong Siew Kian, who teaches culture at Universiti Malaya’s Department of Chinese Studies, explained why people feel obligated to fulfill their filial duties even during difficult times.

“The core philosophy is filial piety. So, some may fear that if people are allowed to forego Qing Ming this year, they may stop the tomb-sweeping practice altogether. We have to bear in mind that our elders are just concerned that the latter generation may shirk their responsibilities.

“But then, our ancestors wouldn’t want us to put ourselves into dangerous situations, either. That is why it is imperative to persuade the elders that having to pray at home just this one time, won’t mean that we are giving up on cultural practices entirely."

Hence the present move to advise people to conduct prayers at home first and then perform tomb-sweeping rites later when the situation permits.

But what's most important is that we seek to plant the concept of filial piety in our hearts and our minds.

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