Chu Wu: Day of the Dead

Nicholas Quirke was welcoming the five gods (接五路 / jiē wǔ lù) Huangdi—Yellow, Cangdi—Bluegreen , Heidi—Black, Chidi—Red,, Baidi—White, on 16 February 2021 or 5th of January in Lunar life and continuing to observe the tenets of the spring festival. The Gods are associated with five colours, the five elements, the five phases of the continuous creation, the five key planets of the Solar System and the five constellations rotating around the celestial pole, the five sacred mountains and five directions of space and the five Dragon Gods (龙神 Lóngshén) who represent the material forces they preside over. They have also been defined simply as five special forms of the worship of the God of Heaven, different “accesses” or perspectives, suitable for different situations, to serve Heaven. The Han Chinese consider themselves to be descended from the yellow and red deities. The welcoming on the auspicious day of the Ox apparently requires three tables of food, but they stuck with a simple plate of cakes and some incense as a whole pig and whole fish was both beyond means and sensibilities. What was of supreme importance on this day was eating Jiaozi. If one wishes to welcome wealth in then devouring dumplings is imperative. It was also traditional and important at this time to visit deceased relatives which, alerted Nicholas to the fact that he had not yet been to any Chinese Cemetery. Investigation revealed that the Babaoshan Revolutionary Cemetery, close to the Sculpture Park was open and he could satisfy his hankering to experience the festival to its full. What people do with their dead had always been of morbid interest to him and it was with contrary spirits that he set off on his expedition to Beijing’s necropolis. Brilliant blue skies accompanied him but the minus six degrees temperature and wind made it an unexpectedly uncomfortable journey. He was glad he had made the effort as the cemetery where the great and the good of the revolution proved to be fascinating and educational as well as extremely effective exercise. The first thing he noted and appreciated was that the majority of graves had photographs or etchings of the deceased on them which made the visit surprisingly emotional as the sense that these departed warriors of the communist cause had enjoyed a physical existence and that many were still missed and the floral tributes that abounded through the acres provided a testament to the lives represented there. He noted the grave of Douglas Frank Springhall, a British communist activist who fought in the Spanish Civil war and during the 2nd World war he was considered to be an agitator by the government who were concerned that not only was he a supporter of  Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, but in early 1940 having seen copies of secret lecture notes by him urging comrades in the armed forces to “initiate all effective actions against the war”. It was reported that he was a “dangerous type of Communist agitator” and exempted from military service as he would “certainly constitute a serious menance to morale and discipline” in the armed forces. In 1943, he was caught receiving secret documents from, a clerk in the Air Ministry telecommunications office and was arrested and found guilty under the Official Secrets Act on 28 July 1943 of obtaining “for a purpose prejudicial to the safety or interests of the State information which might be useful to the enemy”. He was given a seven year prison sentence. He was thought to have been spying since 1941. After his release he travelled through Eastern Europe to China, where he worked as an advisor to the Chinese Information Bureau of the Press Administration. He died of throat cancer in Moscow through his eventual resting place was the hallowed ground Nicholas was now staring at. A fascinating story he thought before moving on through the rows of marble tributes. He was meeting Peng at Jin Ding Xuan where they were going to have beyond meat Jaozi but as he arrived early he went to a new coffee shop/ art gallery close to Ditan Park to do some work before going to eat. He noted that the river which had been thawing last time they had dined there was frozen solid again and the sight of it acted as a curt reminder of how bitterly cold it was. The restaurant had run out of traditional Jiaozi and so they had the steamed and fried variety before heading back home. Though there was no trip to the cinema that day they continued their trend of film watching with a thriller ‘Wrong Turn’ which, he really did not like the look of and had overturned the previous night in favour of the appalling ‘Willys Wonderland’, yet turned out to be preposterous but quite gripping and entertaining. He had communed with the dead and when sleep came his dreams were unsurprisingly populated with deceased family members who had clearly appreciated the spirit of his days endeavours.

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