March 27, 2017

#05-022: April Fools' and Tomb-Sweeping Day

Chinese-style tombstone with offerings; mound behind is covered with colored envelopes
During Tomb-Sweeping Day in Singapore

Note: From the foolishness of April 1st, we pivot to the "grave" activity of sweeping the ancestral tombs, in Chinese culture.

Get Ready: Do you have any annual (or regular) activity in which you celebrate or remember your ancestors?

The first day of April is, of course, April Fools' Day. (Note the placement of that apostrophe; it means there are many fools, not just one!)

It has become popular in our media-saturated culture to play big pranks involving hundreds or thousands of people. In 1998, fast-food giant Burger King announced a "left-handed Whopper," a sandwich with all the ingredients turned 180 degrees. Thousands of hopeful southpaws tried to order it. In 2016, the same company announced their "Chicken Fries Shake," a milkshake flavored like their popular Chicken Fries.

Given its reach, Google may be one of the most effective pranksters of all time. Their first, in 2000, purported to read users' minds as they stared at an animated GIF. Last year they had no fewer than 11 jokes across their various apps.

When I was a kid, our aspirations were humbler. One year, we hid the toilet paper before my dad went into the bathroom in the morning; another year we hid all my mom's kitchen utensils. (That one kind of backfired; she said, "I guess I don't have to cook"!)

Today you can search the internet for "epic pranks," especially related to office life, like covering a colleague's cubicle in Post-It notes, or taping an air horn under someone's chair so it sounds off when they sit down.

Oh, for simpler times!


The first week of April also sees Qingming or "Tomb-Sweeping" celebrations in Chinese communities around the world. Unlike many Chinese holidays, this one--in which people visit the tombs of their ancestors to sweep and tidy them up, as well as pay homage--is one of 24 "solar terms," dates tied to the solar calendar, so it occurs on or near the same day every year, April 4 or 5.

It is associated with the "Cold Food Festival," the legend of which involves a faithful retainer to Prince Chong'er of the State of Jin. In trying to flush the Prince's subject, Jie Zitui, out of the mountains where he had been hiding in humility after withdrawing from the court, the Prince's men set a fire which accidentally killed Jie and his mother. The Prince ordered that thenceforth no cooking fires were to be used for a three-day period.


Read more:

Practice: Match the term to its definition below:

  1. apps
  2. aspirations
  3. backfired
  4. cubicle
  5. media-saturated
  6. pranks
  7. retainer
  8. southpaws
  9. thenceforth
  10. utensils

  1. hopes; wishes
  2. tricks played for fun
  3. had an opposite result
  4. short for "applications," features of a phone or the internet
  5. "soaked" in television, radio, print, the internet, etc.
  6. a small, divided area of an office
  7. tools; here, cooking equipment
  8. a servant; one who works for a king, etc.
  9. from then on
  10. left-handed people

Answers are in the first comment below.

Submitted to the Shenzhen Daily for March 27, 2017

1 comment:

  1. Answers to the Practice: 1. d; 2. a; 3. c; 4. f; 5. e; 6. b; 7. h; 8. j; 9. i; 10. g