Beijing Ghetto

Nicholas Quirke was aching from the walking and cycling he had done over the previous days and on 4 April 2021 he experienced small feeling of relief that the whirlwind tour was coming to end. He was aware that Easter Sunday was dawning in the UK but here in China though there was some recognition commercially of the season it was also a public holiday as it was Tomb Sweeping day and a public holiday from the 3rd to the 5th. Tomb Sweeping Day (清明节, Qīngmíng jié) is a one-day Chinese holiday that has been celebrated in China for centuries. The day is meant to commemorate and pay respect to a person’s ancestors. Thus, on Tomb Sweeping Day, families visit and clean the gravesite of their ancestors to show their respect. Weeds are removed from the gravesite and the tombstone is cleaned and swept. New earth is added and willow branches are placed atop the gravesite. Joss sticks are placed by the grave. The sticks are then lit and an offering of food and paper money is placed at the tomb. Paper money is burned while family members show their respect by bowing to their ancestors. Fresh flowers are placed at the tomb and some families also plant willow trees. In ancient times, the five-colored paper was placed underneath a stone on the grave to signify that someone had visited the grave and that it had not been abandoned. The origins of the festival has a narrative as long as the resurrection and needless to say there are echoes of the Easter celebration in the story of a wronged devoted official who was burned under a tree with his mother in a forest fire and the ancient ruler returning to the site the following year and findIng the dead tree was in full bloom, like a resurrection at a tomb site, made it a festival. They started the day early had breakfast and left by 8.30. A quick stroll through their number 1 scenic spot and took the subway to the station. The rest of the morning and afternoon were spent in transit. At home in Beijing surprised to see that spring blossom had well and truly sprung in the five day absence, they had time to un-pack, refresh and eat before going out to the theatre. The ticket had been booked for a performance in January as he had never been to the Poly Theatre which he regularly passed but with the sudden resurgence of a number of Covid cases it had been cancelled and rescheduled for 4 April. He had thought he might never make it but here he was in April of 2021 attending the show. The play ‘Ghetto’ by Israeli playwright Joshua Sobol had premiered in 1984 and had been a hit at the National Theatre in 1989. He had not seen it but he was familiar with the story having read a synopsis but this proved to be unnecessary as the play was performed with English subtitles. This meant for once he was not left pondering what was being said and could appreciate the play for the drama that it was. It was the true story of life in the Vilna Ghetto during the Nazi occupation of Lithuania and though it could not be called life enhancing as it was told through the eyes of a group of actors who despite the murder of many of their race and faith were given a theatre to perform in and told to make appropriate theatre for the survivors, it had music and elements of comedy. This was a relief as it 3 hours long. But passed quickly and was a wonderful piece of theatre that he could see the Chinese actors and audience relished. It was a splendid way to have spent an Easter, Tomb sweeping day and he went to sleep more than satisfied with his lot.

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