25 October 2020
The festival has many names: Autumn Remembrance, Festival of High Places, and Double-Ninth. Just like the Ching Ming Festival, which happens every spring, it is a special day for families to visit the ancestor memorials in Hong Kong. Many cemeteries in Hong Kong are constructed onto hilly areas and this leads to the combination of visiting graves and hiking to celebrate Chung Yeung.
The Chung Yeung festival is held on the ninth day of the ninth lunar month. In ancient times, it was marked by climbing a mountain in the belief that this will help avoid plague and evil demons. In fact, the origin of the festival relates to a man named Heng Jing, who believed that a monster would bring pestilence to his village. He told his countrymen to hide on a hill while he went to defeat the monster, which he succeeded in doing, thus saving his community.
To protect against danger today, it is customary to climb a high mountain, drink chrysanthemum liquor, and wear the zhuyu (茱萸) plant, Cornus officinalis. Both chrysanthemum and zhuyu are considered to have cleansing qualities and are used on other occasions to air out houses and cure illnesses. Other activities include enjoying a cosy picnic with their loved ones and flying kites. Some people believe that flying kites takes away bad omens up in the sky.
In 1966, Taiwan rededicated the holiday as “Senior Citizens’ Day”, underscoring one custom as it is observed in China, where the festival is also an opportunity to care for and appreciate the elderly.
There is an oft-quoted poem about the holiday, Double Ninth, Remembering my Shandong Brothers (九月九日憶山東兄弟), by the Tang Dynasty poet Wang Wei:
獨在異鄉為異客，dú zài yì xiāng wéi yì kè
每逢佳節倍思親。měi féng jiā jié bèi sī qīn
遙知兄弟登高處，yáo zhī xiōng dì dēng gāo chù
遍插茱萸少一人。biàn chā zhū yú shǎo yì rén
Being Alone alien in a foreign land,
Every holiday is accompanied by reminiscences of one’s kith and kin.
Knowing from afar, the heights one’s elder and younger brothers have scaled
Aside wearing Cornus officinalis, there is one soul less, amiss.