Arriving at my street in a taxi, we drove past a large fire with a group of a dozen people surrounding it. After paying I walked back to the fireplace to see and ask what was going on. I assumed they were simply burning trash and people surrounded it because fire has something attractive to it. I couldn’t have been further from the truth. Asking, I was told the people were burning the clothes of a dead man. To be precise, I was asking his son.
China has different cultural events and festivities surrounding the theme of death and ancestry. For example on QingMing Festival (清明节) people offer food to the deceased and burn fake money on the streets as a gift to their ancestors; most of them also return to their ‘hometown’ (家乡) where their family originates from and sweep the tombs of their ancestors. Tonight, watching this fireplace circled by white chalk and fed clothes and bed sheets by the son of the passed, I saw another side of the mourning. I don’t know if it’s only Shanghainese people that do this, but the lady that helped her son explain, possibly the widow, said it was something typical of here.
I was asked by a lady what we do with our family members’ ‘ordinary’ belongings, and I had to admit that I didn’t know but assumed we either throw it all away, donate it, or keep it stored, for whatever reason. I own a pullover of my grandfather’s, but don’t know what was done with the rest of his clothes. They may be in a box stored in a cellar, and if they are, I think I would enjoy watching them burn in company of my family, as we remember him and, for that moment, bring him back to our present, all warmed up by the fire until only ashes of what he once wore remain.