Maintaining, Relinquishing, and Adapting Bonds in Bereavement: A Qualitative Study of Grave Sweeping in China

Author: Becky Yang Hsu

April 28, 2023

Published in SSM-Mental Health, this open access article by Becky Yang Hsu and Roman Palitsky explores how continuing bonds may be maintained through the ritual of grave sweeping, which is part of the communal religion that is practiced by a majority of the population in China. Continuing bonds with the deceased are essential and ongoing aspects of bereavement. In China, the annual ritual of grave sweeping involves family members visiting the graves of their loved ones to offer items and conversation. Utilizing a multiple case study design, Hsu and Palitsky examine the ritual activities of grave sweeping with four ethnographic observations and two in-depth interviews conducted in 2014–2015 in western, southern, and northern regions of China (Sichuan, Xiamen, Harbin, and Qiqihar). Their analysis focuses on qualitative data collected on objects, affect, language, and interactions between participants to better understand the activities involved in the ritual. Ultimately, Hsu and Palitsky conclude that grave sweeping provides an interactional setting for survivors to maintain, relinquish, and adapt bonds to the deceased.

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