The Qingming Festival, also known as simply Qingming, or Tomb-Sweeping Day in English, is a traditional Chinese festival on the first day of the fifth solar term of the traditional Chinese lunisolar calendar. This makes it the 15th day after the Spring Equinox, either 4 or 5 April in a given year. Other common translations include Chinese Memorial Day and Ancestors’ Day.
The festival is called Qīngmíng Jié in Standard (Mandarin) Chinese (清明節 / 清明节; Wade-Giles: Ch‘ing Ming Chieh), literally “Pure Brightness Festival” or “Clear and Bright Festival.” The name suggests a time for people to go outside and enjoy the greenery of springtime (踏青, tà qīng, “treading on the greenery”), but it is mostly noted for it connection with Chinese ancestral veneration and the tending of family graves. The Chinese characters are read Cing1-ming4 Zit3 in Cantonese, and Chheng-bêng-cheh or Chhiⁿ-miâ-choeh in Min.
Qingming has been regularly observed as a statutory public holiday in China. In Taiwan, the public holiday is now always observed on 5 April to honor the death of Chiang Kai-shek on that day in 1975. It became a public holiday in mainland China in 2008.
In the mainland, the holiday is associated with the consumption of qingtuan, green dumplings made of glutinous rice and barley grass. In Taiwan, the similar confection is known as caozaiguo or shuchuguo.
A similar holiday is observed in the Ryukyu Islands, called Shīmī in the local language.
The festival originated from the Cold Food Festival (“Hanshi Festival”), established by Chong’er, Duke Wen of Jin, during the Spring and Autumn period. The festival was a memorial for his retainer Jie Zitui, who had loyally followed him during his years of exile. Supposedly, he once even cut meat from his own thigh to provide Chong’er with soup. Once Chong’er was enthroned as duke, however, Jie considered his services no longer required and resigned. Although Duke Wen was generous in rewarding those who had helped him in his time of need, he long passed over Jie, who had moved into the forest with his mother. Duke Wen went to the forest in 636 bc but could not find them. He then ordered his men to set fire to the forest in order to force Jie out. When Jie and his mother were killed instead, the duke was overcome with remorse and ordered three days without fire to honor Jie’s memory. The city erected over the former forest is still called Jiexiu (lit. “Jie’s rest”).
The present importance of the holiday is credited to the Tang Emperor Xuanzong. Wealthy citizens in China were reportedly holding too many extravagant and ostentatiously expensive ceremonies in honor of their ancestors. In ad 732, Emperor Xuanzong sought to curb this practice by declaring that such respects could be formally paid only once a year, on Qingming.
Qingming Festival is when Chinese people visit the columbarium, graves or burial grounds to pray to their ancestors.
The Qingming Festival is an opportunity for celebrants to remember and honour their ancestors at grave sites. Young and old pray before the ancestors, sweep the tombs and offer food, tea, wine, chopsticks, joss paper accessories, and/or libations to the ancestors. The rites have a long tradition in Asia, especially among farmers. Some people carry willow branches with them on Qingming or put willow branches on their gates and/or front doors. They believe that willow branches help ward off the evil spirit that wanders on Qingming.
On Qingming, people go on family outings, start the spring plowing, sing, and dance. Qingming is also a time when young couples traditionally start courting. Another popular thing to do is to fly kites in the shapes of animals or characters from Chinese opera. Another common practice is to carry flowers instead of burning paper, incense, or firecrackers.
Despite having no official status, the overseas Chinese communities in Southeast Asian nations, such as those in Singapore and Malaysia, take this festival seriously and observe its traditions faithfully. Some Qingming rituals and ancestral veneration decorum observed by the oversea Chinese in Malaysia and Singapore can be dated back to Ming and Qing dynasties, as the oversea communities were not affected by the Cultural Revolution in Mainland China. Qingming in Malaysia is an elaborate family function or a clan feast (usually organized by the respective clan association) to commemorate and honour recently deceased relatives at their grave sites and distant ancestors from China at home altars, clan temples or makeshift altars in Buddhist or Taoist temples. For the oversea Chinese community, the Qingming festival is very much a family celebration and, at the same time, a family obligation. They see this festival as a time of reflection and to honour and give thanks to their forefathers. Overseas Chinese normally visit the graves of their recently deceased relatives on the nearest weekend to the actual date. According to the ancient custom, grave site veneration is only feasible ten days before and after the Qingming Festival. If the visit is not on the actual date, normally veneration before Qingming is encouraged. The Qingming Festival in Malaysia and Singapore normally starts early in the morning by paying respect to distant ancestors from China at home altars. This is followed by visiting the graves of close relatives in the country. Some follow the concept of filial piety to the extent of visiting the graves of their ancestors in mainland China. Traditionally, the family will burn spirit money and paper replicas of material goods such as cars, homes, phones and paper servants. In Chinese culture, it is believed that people still need all of those things in the afterlife. Then family members start take turns to kowtow three to nine times (depending on the family adherence to traditional values) before the tomb of the ancestors. The Kowtowing ritual in front of the grave is performed in the order of patriarchal seniority within the family. After the ancestor worship at the grave site, the whole family or the whole clan feast on the food and drink they brought for the worship either at the site or in nearby gardens in the memorial park, signifying family reunion with the ancestors. Another ritual related to the festival is the cockfight, as well as being available within that historic and cultural context at Kaifeng Millennium City Park (Qingming Riverside Landscape Garden).
The holiday is often marked by people paying respects to those who died in events considered sensitive. The April Fifth Movement and the Tiananmen Incident were major events in Chinese history which occurred on Qingming. When Premier Zhou Enlai died in 1976, thousands visited him during the festival to pay their respects. Many also pay respects to victims of the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989 and Zhao Ziyang.
Qingming is one of the 24 Solar terms in traditional Chinese culture, which refers to the warming of weather and blooming of plants. During the Qingming time, the climate in the South of China is getting warm and Spring is coming. However there is also some cold weather before and after the Qingming time. The average daily temperature may be below 12℃ which will result to the death of early season rice. In the northwest highlands of China, livestock will suffer the lack of food due to the consumption of the whole winter. It is essential to protect old and young livestock from the harm of early Spring due to lack of food. “It’s always raining during Qingming time” is written by a famous poet Du Mu of Tang Dynasty. However the situation is not the same as described in the poem. The southern of China and the western part of China often suffer from dry weather for long time. The total raining volume in early April is only about 10 to 20 mm, which is far from half of the raining volume in that of regions south of the Yangtze River. However, the southeast part of China receives a higher volume of rain. The early April raining volume is about 20 to 40 mm.
Except from the northeast and northwest part of China, the temperature in most places of China has raised to more than 12℃. Most places of China show a busy Spring scene. The wheat during this period is almost blooming, and rape has been in full bloom. Agricultural plants such as corn, broomcorn and cotton are almost planted. During this season, it is recommended that the fertilization and water management is implemented well to assure the nutrition of plants. As the tea tree is also sprouting at this time, measures should be taken to protect the plants from diseases and pests.
Highway Free Of Charge In China During The Qingming Festival:
Since the implementation of the small passenger car toll exemption during major holidays on 1 April 2013, the Qing Ming Festival will be the third holiday after the National Holidays and Spring Festival during which highway toll is free in China. From the midnight beginning 4 April to the midnight ending 6 April, highways will be free for small passenger cars.
In Chinese Tea Culture:
The Qingming festival holiday has a significance in the Chinese tea culture since this specific day divides the fresh green teas by their picking dates. Green teas made from leaves picked before this date are given the prestigious ‘pre-qingming’ (清明前) designation which commands a much higher price tag. These teas are prized for having much lighter and subtler aromas than those picked after the festival.