What I Learnt About Tomb Sweeping Day

I’ve taken over my father’s role on Tomb Sweeping Day for the past 3 years since my father’s health deteriorated. As both my wife and I are free-thinkers, we do not know much about those traditional practice when it comes to tomb sweeping day. I didn’t pick up much knowledge from my parents as they are free-thinkers too! I’ve been doing a simplified version on tomb sweeping day since then and just buy a package of ‘everything’ and some oranges as offerings to my ancestors. Maybe that’s why I’m not being blessed by them haha.

I remembered when I first bought those packages  (shown below) for offerings to my ancestors, I thought it was as simple as pick. pay, go, pray and burn. But the auntie selling it told me that I must do some ‘situational writing’ on the package so that my ancestors can receive our offerings. She asked me for details like the dates of offering, names of ancestors, our relationship to them. etc. I was taken aback as I knew nothing about it. I told her I will be back with more infos. Since then, I will get every infos ready before buying those packages as they provide ‘situational writing’ services free on our behalf.

As usual this year when I wanted to buy those simplified packages for offerings, I thought my wife had brought the infos needed for me and she thought I had it myself…so end up we didn’t bring along the infos which include my ancestors’ names. So can’t be help, the names portion were left blank for me to fill it in.

Let’s take a look at the yellow strip of paper pasted on the package. This is where we write the infos on it;

Hmm, those were not my handwriting (mine not so nice lah). They were written by the provision shop owner where I bought the packages from.

Now let’s examine what infos are required and how to write on the yellow strip of paper;

On the top right hand side, you see the words “陰府” (yin fu). Below it is where we write who we want the package to be ‘delivered’ to. Of course “陰府” here simply means the addressee in hell, hades or whatever term you called it. As this is Green package, so it’s meant for female and in this case for my Great Grandmother. Now I remember the term  “紅男綠女” (hóng nán lǜ nǚ) means men wear red while women wear green.

The first word to write is “先” meaning 先人(xiān rén) or 祖先(zǔ xiān) both mean ancestor. Next is “曾祖母” (zēng zǔ mǔ), who is my Paternal Great Grandmother. You may refer to here for the various terms relationship. Next we usually write the name of the ‘person’ receiving the package or addressee’s name. In this case my Paternal Great Grandmother may not have a name of her own, so we addressed her as “姚邵” (yáo shào) which is a combination of the husband’s family surname and the wife’s family surname. It was understood that women in the past do not have a name of their own and have adopted this manner of addressing them. Since my Paternal Great Grandmother was married into the “姚” (yáo) family, my family surname, we write it as “姚門” (yáo mén). Next will be her own surname “邵” (which is her family’s surname), and written as “邵氏” (shào shì). The “氏” (shì) here can also be simply means surname or clan’s name. The term “姓氏” (surname origin) origin is rather complicated and I’ll blog about it separately in future. So here I addressed my Paternal Great Grandmother as “姚門邵氏”. Note : In olden times, some women, mainly poor ones, do not have personal names and are simply called by their family surname names suffixed with shi (氏); after they are married, the husband’s surname is added before the maiden name.

 After this we write “夫人” (fū ren) denoting “madam”. Below this we find the term “收” (shōu) means “receive”.

You can check this on the tomb itself, here below is what’s inscribed on my Paternal Great Grandmother’s tomb;

You may take a look at the various tombs during the next tomb sweeping day. You may see many were written in this manner too.

Next take a look at how we write when the ancestor’s name is known, here my Paternal Grandmother. Probably during the Grandmother era, most woman already had their own names, so it will be written differently from the previous one.  My Paternal Grandmother name is “容运通” (róng yùn tōng), so this is how we write;

Everything is the same except after the surname, I wrote the name of my Grandmother. So you see “容氏” (róng shì), my Grandmother’s surname, followed by her name “运通” (yùn tōng).

So how do we write for the male ones, here in this case my Grandfather;

Since it’s for my Grandfather, it’s a Red package.

Here I wrote “祖父” (zǔ fù) since it’s for my Paternal Grandfather. Since our family surname is “姚” , I wrote “姚府” (yáo fǔ) meaning “Yao Mansion”. Note since it’s for man, we don’t write “門” (mén) or  “氏” (shì). After the “府” ( fǔ), we immediately write the name “豪秋” (háo qiū) followed by “君” meaning “gentleman”. My Paternal Grandfather name was “姚豪秋”. This can be seen on the tomb itself;

The only slight difference is “公” (gōng) was written on the tomb instead of “府” (fǔ). Probaby the word “公” (gōng) is more personal on tomb.

Now take a look at how to write on the left side of the yellow strip;

On the top left side, you see the word “陽居” (yáng jū) simply means “people who reside on earth”. It’s actually refer to the sender, where we just write the relationship between the sender or the person who offer the package and the recipient. We start writing with the word “孝” (xiào) meaning “filial”. Doesn’t matter if one is not really, it’s just a standard “situation writing” format like we write letter. Next we put our relationship down with reference to the recipient. Since this package is for our (my wife and I) Paternal Great Grandmother (the first example), here we are known as “曾孫” (zēng sūn) meaning “Great Grandchildren”. After that we wrote “媳婦” (xí fù) and “男” (nán) side by side. So in full it means “Great Grandson and Daughter-in-law”. Below you see the word “合家” (hé jiā) meaning “and family”. The last word is “付” (fù) simply means “paid for” or more accurately known as the “sender”.

Now we left back the centre portion of the yellow strip;

This is meant to write the date of offerings or the date you go for your tomb sweeping day. This must be written in the Chinese Calendar format. If you do not own one you can just Google for it as shown here or here. Since the year 2010, which is Metal Tiger, we wrote “庚寅” (gēng yín) for the “年” (nián). This is followed by “三” (sān) “月” (yuè) meaning “the Third Month” and “初五” (chū wǔ) meaning “the fifth day of the month”. Remember we don’t write the date as 2010, April, 18 (though that was the date we went for tomb sweeping). but we wrote it in the Chinese Calendar way. Usually the year is the more difficult one where I need to check it out.

Though I’m a free-thinker, I still wish to maintain such Chinese culture practice even mine is a simplified version. So how elaborate is your tomb sweeping practice? Seen some even have lion dance and roasted pig as offerings.


What my father wrote;

“Better master one than engage with ten.”


13 Responses to “What I Learnt About Tomb Sweeping Day”

  1. 1 Philip Chew Tuesday, April 27, 2010 at 10:00 am

    Your offerings at Tomb Sweeping Day was different from mine. Each dialect group has its own traditional way of doing it. My uncle did it very simply. The offerings were cakes and fruits. Put joss papers all over the tomb and weigh-down with stones to stop them from flying away. Lastly pray with joss sticks.

  2. 2 Hun Boon Tuesday, April 27, 2010 at 12:50 pm

    Thanks, Mr KK Lao. 🙂

    That’s very helpful. I’m also a freethinker, but I would like to continue these practices out of respect for my ancestors.

  3. 3 poppy Tuesday, April 27, 2010 at 1:27 pm

    thank you so much for shedding light on these old customs which people of my generation and younger scarcely practice.

    may i ask, what is in the package? and if this is not too rude, how much does it cost in “earth” money? haha =D thanks

  4. 4 laokokok Wednesday, April 28, 2010 at 7:39 am

    Glad to know I’m not alone.

  5. 5 laokokok Wednesday, April 28, 2010 at 7:41 am

    Hi Poppy,it’s $10 per package based on that size. Some shops selling $6 for smaller ones. After I’ve burnt them, I can see clothing, hell money mainly.

  6. 6 yg Wednesday, April 28, 2010 at 9:01 am

    every year, tomb sweeping day was arranged so that all my siblings and i could be together at our late father’s grave at kheam hock road. this year, i had to miss the family get-together at the grave because of some last minute event. i decided that i would go a day earlier and i left a bunch of flowers in a container at my dad’s grave. the next day when my siblings went to sweep the tomb, the bunch of flowers was missing. who could have gone round collecting flowers?

  7. 7 Equally Old Thursday, April 29, 2010 at 12:26 pm

    Hi LKK

    This yellow strip of paper is called “封条“。
    And those hell money pasted next to it are supposed to be the STAMP.

    Thanks to this post, I learn something new too. It is the ”紅男綠女”. I’ve heart of it but only now, I know how it is applied.

  8. 8 laokokok Friday, April 30, 2010 at 7:35 am

    Hi YG,
    Sometimes all these offerings are cleared almost immediately. The cleaners said that this is to maintain the place clean. But at times I do feel that it’s really a bit too fast to clear up.

  9. 9 laokokok Friday, April 30, 2010 at 7:37 am

    You are right Equally Old. And the right side is for recipients infos while the left is for senders infos.

  10. 10 laokokok Thursday, May 6, 2010 at 11:43 am

    Oh it’s rather different. Mine is probably Cantonese way.

  11. 11 Ape Wednesday, May 19, 2010 at 11:37 am

    Hi, you missed out one thing… sign on the package. This is usually done by drawing a circle and placing a single dot in the middle of the circle… near the “paid for”.

    Ape was just as clueless :p and is doing the “simplified” manner just like you.

    Glad that you do make an effort to write this down. Ape guess many people of our generation has forgotten such traditions.

  12. 12 Rabbit Friday, July 9, 2010 at 4:05 pm


    Sooooooo glad to land at your blog!

    I have been searching for old Singapore maps, in search of my own childhood memories, esp in sembawang and changi!

    Can’t wait to read all your entries and refresh my memories b4 they fade away….



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