Facts About the History Surrounding Qingming Festival
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Facts About the History Surrounding Qingming Festival

The Qingming Festival also known as Tomb Sweeping Day is an important date in the cultural calendar of Chinese tradition. It is usually held on the 104th day after the occurrence of the winter solstice or the 15th day following the spring equinox, it usually occurs around the 5th day of April.

The day is known by many names with residents of Hong Kong and Vietnam calling the day Ching Ming. It also is referred to as the Pure Brightness Festival, the Clear Bright Festival, Tomb Sweeping Day and finally as Ancestors Day. It is a solar term, with Qingming being an Astronomical term for the day marking the opening day of the fifth solar term.

The day is also marked as the time for people to go outside, to enjoy the springtime and its greenery as well as to tend to the graves of their family members having departed this life. It has been regarded as a Chinese public holiday in Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macao for many years; it was however only reintroduced into the rest of mainland China since 2008.

Traditionally, Chinese people would visit the graves of their ancestors on this day and attend with a rooster, taking food for their departed relatives, this practice has become less practiced over time and today is largely only followed by the country’s elderly residents. It originated from Hanshi Day, this was a day of consuming cold food only, a memorial to Jie Zitui. He died in 636BC, was a strong supporter and follower of Duke Wen of Jin and during the 19 years of the Duke’s exile he prepared a meat soup for the duke at a time when they had no food. Asked where he had obtained the meat Jie Zitui had removed some off his own thigh to provide the meal. Once the Duke was restored to his position of power he wanted to reward Jie who by this time was living in a nearby forest, unable to find him the order was given to set the forest alight so that Jie would emerge and receive his reward. Jie died in the fire and so the order was given for the next three days people were to eat food cold and without using fire to prepare their meals. The area where Jie died is still to this day called Jiexiu, it literally means ‘the place where Jie rests forever’.

The Qingming Festival is a tradition of more than 2,500 years, believed to have begun in 732 BC. China’s wealthy citizens would at that time have too many celebrations of extravagance and ostentatious practices to honour their departed relatives, the Emperor of the time Xuanzong, declared that ancestors could only be respected in this way on the occasion of Qingming, it then became a festival observed throughout China and over time has developed into an important cultural occasion.

The festival is celebrated in modern day China by young and old alike praying at the graveside, sweeping the tomb and offering food, tea, sometimes wine, chopsticks and burning joss sticks. It is traditionally held with strong beliefs by the country’s poorer farming communities, another aspect of the day is to carry willow branches, others will place willow onto their front door or gateway to help wards off any evil spirits that may be present during the festival.

There will be family outings on this day, traditionally it is the time for farmers to begin ploughing the fields, as well as a time to sing and dance. Young couples seek this time to begin courting and younger members of the population fly kites, traditionally shaped like characters or animals from Chinese operas.

Chinese tea is also observed between that picked before Qingming and that picked after. The fresh tea picked before the date of the festival is given a designation as pre-qingming, this gives the tea a much greater value and can be highly sought after and commanding a greater price. The early picked leaves are renowned for being lighter and having a more subtle aroma than those picked later or after the festival.

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Comments (8)

John, wow, you have presented some really great information.  Outstanding job.

Thank you for your complete guide.

What a great article, John!

Interesting topic!

This is similar to our Memorial Day on May 31st.  Well done.

Interesting information.

The chinese is always strongly entrenched in their tradition.A very nice and informative article.Thanks.

Thanks for sharing information on this interesting festival.