Qing Ming Festival (清明节) is a day to pay respects to ancestors and mark the onset of Spring on April 5, 2011. It is often referred to as Tomb Sweeping Day or literally translated as Clear and Bright Festival. Read more on Qing Ming from QINGDAO(nese) contributor Cherie. Please contact us if you would like to share Qingdao and China related content.
Qing Ming is one of 24 solar terms used by Chinese farmers to schedule their work. The name Qing Ming is related to the coming of Spring and the holiday comes 15 days after the Spring Equinox. Experienced farmers know that crops planted before or right after this time are much more likely to survive. There is a well known farmer’s proverb in China which can be translated as “Tree planting should be done at Qing Ming Festival”. The holiday, also known as Tomb Sweeping Day, is a traditional festival in China and the most important day of sacrifice on the annual calendar. On Qing Ming, people usually go to sweep their relatives’ graves and pay respects to them with special dishes and wine.
There are many customs followed by Chinese on Qing Ming Festival: playing on a swing, playing cu ju/蹴鞠 (recognized as the earliest form of football in ancient China), going for a walk in the countryside, sweeping graves, planting branches of willows, and flying kites.
There is a story about Qing Ming from ancient China about how it became associated with the Han Shi Festival (寒食节), when cold food is eaten and fires are not allowed. According to the story, during the Spring and Autumn and Warring States era there was incessant fighting among rulers or future rulers for power and position. Chong Er (重耳), a future emperor of the Jin State, was trapped and forced to leave his state. Some ministers followed and saw him through all the rough times. Among these was a man named Jie Zi Tui (介子推) who loyally served Chong Er. After Chong Er had survived his exile and reclaimed all that originally belonged to him, including his kingdom, he gave those ministers who had helped him during times of trouble great rewards of power and fortune. But somehow he forgot the most loyal one, Jie Zi Tui .
When Chong Er was reminded of his omission, he sent many ministers to invite Jie Zi Tui to visit so that he could express his regret to the loyal viscount. No one brought back good news. Chong himself went to visit Jie Zi Tui and was also refused. Jie Zi Tui has hidden in the mountains with his mother in order to avoid meeting Chong Er. Somebody suggested Chong Er use fire to force Jie Zi Tui to come out of the mountain. The young emperor accepted this suggestion without thinking twice. A huge fire was set on three sides of the mountain, but no one came out. They later found both Jie Zi Tui and his mother dead at the foot of a charred tree. A letter was found under their bodies. Oh the letter, Jie Zi Tui had written, “Whenever you think of me, please reflect on yourself. You must be a good king who serves his people. No matter how one is treated, one is always loyal to his king”. Chong Er was greatly touched and named that day Han Shi Festival. Only cold food could be eaten on that day, and any form of fire was forbidden in order to commemorate Jie Zi Tui. Qing Ming not only has its literal meaning related to the Spring, but also has a figurative meaning of being a great ruler.
There are many customs followed by Chinese on Qing Ming Festival, including playing on a swing, playing cu ju/蹴鞠 (recognized as the earliest form of football in ancient China), going for a walk in the countryside, sweeping graves, planting branches of willows, and flying kites. Sweeping graves and going for a walk outdoors are the most popular ones. In my hometown, we usually eats eggs and green onions on Qing Ming. It has been said from generation to generation that this combination of food means we will be more intelligent the rest of the year. Every Tomb Sweeping Day, my whole family and I climb mountains or picnic outside. We do sweep graves, but that only occupies a small part of the holiday. My family thinks that even though we should forever remember those who have passed away, it is more important to treasure what we have now.
A famous poem by Du Mu is often recited on Qing Ming:
Du Mu Poem about Qing Ming Festival from Mama Lisa World Culture Blog.
It’s raining hard at the time of the Qing Ming Festival,
The mourner’s heart is overwhelmed on the road upland.
May I ask where there’s a tavern to drown my sorrows?
The shepherd boy points to Xinghua Village in the distance.
清 明 时 节 雨 纷 纷，
路 上 行 人 欲 断 魂。
借 问 酒 家 何 处 有，
牧 童 遥 指 杏 花 村。
qīng míng shí jié yǔ fēn fēn
lù shàng xíng rén yù duàn hún
jiè wèn jiǔ jiā hé chù yǒu
mù tóng yáo zhǐ xìng huā cūn