Performers and the public listen to a speech during the Yellow Emperor Memorial Ceremony held last year in Huangling county, Northwest China's Shaanxi province.
An estimated 50 million overseas Chinese are scattered across the world today, but whatever cultures they embrace or languages they speak, blood ties from shared ancient ancestors are an eternal link of kinship.
Few understand this better than the residents of Shaanxi province's Huangling county, home to the Mausoleum of the Yellow Emperor.
According to legend, the ancient tomb that sits on Qiaoshan Mountain holds only the clothes of the revered emperor, a tribal chief who defeated his enemies to unify China about 5,000 years ago.
Since the Han Dynasty (206 BC-AD 220), rulers have held regular memorial activities at the mausoleum to offer tributes and pay respect to one of the forefathers of Chinese civilization. They prayed to the Yellow Emperor for a long life and long reign, good harvests, and for fortune in battle.
Yet in the years that followed the collapse of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), the ancestral celebrations in Huangling began to take on new significance－to unite the Chinese people for the fight against Japanese invaders and the reconstruction of the nation.
The Yellow Emperor Memorial Ceremony is held annually during Qingming Festival, or Tomb Sweeping Day, which this year falls on Tuesday. Since the late 1970s, when the nation launched its reform and opening-up policy, this event has evolved into an important activity for the far-reaching Chinese diaspora.
Overseas Chinese from across the world began to flock to the county each year to honor this iconic ancestor, with compatriots from Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macao occupying prominent positions in the ceremony.
Authorities at all levels have recognized the ceremony's power to stoke pride in Chinese people worldwide, with the hope that it may bolster the nation's search for outside investment and technologies to stoke economic growth.
The central government started to help with organizing the memorial ceremony in 2004. Two years later, the event was added to the list of national intangible cultural heritage.
Although its role has changed, the memorial ceremony rarely does. A ceremonial drum is beaten 34 times, which represents China's 34 regions, and a large bell is rang nine times (an auspicious number in Chinese culture) to awaken the divine spirits. Offerings of flowers and elegiac speeches are made. Attendees visit the tomb and bow three times, and there are performances of traditional music and dance.
This year's event is themed “Trace the Source, Seek the Root, Unite the Hearts, Build the Souls”. Thousands of observers from home and abroad, including Taiwan politicians Chen Chen-hsiang, vice-chairman of the Kuomintang, and New Party Chairman Yok Mu-ming, were expected to be in attendance.
To compliment the annual ceremony, the local authorities also arrange other related activities during March, including planting trees－the Yellow Emperor is said to have attached great importance to the practice－as well as academic seminars.
While the annual event is important in terms of ancestral worship, officials in Huangling also see it as an opportunity to build the county's image as the cradle of Chinese civilization, or the “spiritual home of ethnic Chinese people”, and to boost the local tourism and cultural industries.