Every April Chinese communities around the world mark Qingming, or ‘tomb sweeping’ festival, which takes place twice a year in Spring and Autumn. This is when the graves of relatives are visited, swept and tidied. Prayers are offered, as well as tea, wine and joss sticks. In China and Taiwan it is a public holiday on either the 4th or 5th of the month, while foreign Chinese communities tend to carry out their visits on one of the weekends either before or after.
In Liverpool, Anfield and Everton cemeteries have sections specifically for Chinese graves. Chinese graves are traditionally situated on higher ground as they represent better feng shui. The size of the headstone is significant too, with elders having larger ones than younger persons. Prior to the burial, strict funeral customs are observed, with rituals varying according to the deceased’s rank. When an elderly person dies for example, their son must sit next to the coffin during the wake which takes place in the home. For a younger person however, the elders are not expected to show grief and the body remains at the funeral home.
Inscriptions on Chinese headstones usually contain more detail than on Western ones. There are usually at least three columns of characters, with the middle one containing larger writing due to the information being more important. That is where the deceased’s name is inscribed, usually with the family name first followed by the given name. The columns on either side and writing along the top contain information about the date and place of birth, starting with the village and the writing increasing in size as it goes through county, district and province. When it comes to details about death, the date that it occurred and sometimes even the time is inscribed.
Apart from at Qingming, members of the Chinese community are not expected to visit graves on a regular basis. When they do however, it is quite an event. The See Yep association (named after the four counties in the south west of the Guangdong province in China) organise visits to both Anfield and Everton cemeteries, with coaches departing from Chinatown in the city centre.
Members of the association visit to pay respect not just to their own ancestors but all compatriots buried there. At Anfield, the Chinese section is on the left after heading in through the Cherry Lane entrance, while at Everton it is on the right hand side after the road bends to the right once the chapel has been passed.