The Qingming Festival

The Qingming Festival

Qingming, in Chinese, means ‘clear and bright’, is one of the 24 Solar Terms, and is an important traditional festival referred to as Tomb-Sweeping Day or the Mourning Day. The festival can be traced back to the Zhou Dynasty (1046-256 BC). The day is for commemorating ancestors and sweeping tombs, and is also the common link between the Chinese nations. The words “Clear” and “Bright” describe the weather in this period such that it is a golden opportunity for spring cultivation and getting close to nature. The day before Qingming Festival is Cold Food Day when people are forbidden fire and only eat cold food. As time went by, the two festivals intermingled.

On the 20th May, 2006, Qingming Festival was added to the National Intangible Cultural Heritage List.

The Qingming Festival dates over next few years:

Year Date Weekday
2018 April 5 Thursday
2019 April 5 Friday
2020 April 4 Saturday
2021 April 4 Sunday

Click here to see China Public Holiday Calendar

The Legend about Qingming Festival — A Story of Duke Wen of Jin and Jie Zitui

In The Spring and Autumn period (770-475BC), Chong’er, prince of the Jin State, with his followers ran away from his country to avoid persecution. They had suffered hunger and cold in exile. Legend has it that a supporter named Jie Zitui cut a piece of flesh from his own leg to save the starving Chong’er. After 19 years, when Chong’er succeeded to his father’s throne, his followers all strived for credit, except for the loyal Jie Zitui. Therefore, other followers were rewarded, and Jie Zitui was totally forgotten. Then Jie retired with his mother to the Mian Mountain.

Chong’er, Duke Wen of the Jin State, felt guilty, and wanted to bring him back. But it is very difficult to find people in the steep mountains and dense forests. Someone suggested that he set a fire to smoke Jie Zitui out. Following the Duke’s order, the fire was lit, and lasted three whole days and nights. As the result, Jie and his mother were burned to death beside an old willow. There was a blood-letter that said, “Cutting flesh only for lord, hoping owner always develops clear and bright policies”. After that, Duke Chong’er wailed for Jie’s death and ordered all fires of every house to be put out and only cold food to be allowed on the anniversary of his death.

Traditional Sacrifices and Modern Offerings

Sacrifices have varied according to different periods. In the cemetery, Chinese people burn some paper money in the belief that deceased relatives can use it in their afterlife. It is a Confucian tradition in China. Nowadays, those offerings have become more fashionable and keep up with times.

Traditional Sacrifices

Paper money, golden paper ingots, and some candles are in increased demand during the Qingming Festival. It is common to visit relatives’ graves and offer flowers on it and bring some fresh fruits, homemade food, and white spirit.

Modern Offerings

These days, paper offerings of items on Sweeping Tomb Day are faux iPhone products, luxury cars with a driver, branded bags and clothes, and enormous villas with swimming pools. In recent years, users on the internet can find a set of services of sweeping tombs for someone who cannot do it in person, to clean graves, place flowers, and pay respect. Even the ways to express devotion to the deceased has become virtual. Many mourners can do their sacrifice online. Users can create web shrines with candles on the sacrifice website, and then they can offer different kinds of virtual tributes, such as pictures of one’s favorite foods and flowers.

Chinese Painting: Along the River During the Qingming Festival (清明上河图qīng míng shàng hé tú)

Artists are keen on an art creation about the Qingming Festival. “Along the River During the Qingming Festival” is a panoramic painting by Zhang Zeduan in the Northern Dynasty (960-1127AD). It is one of the China’s top 10 most famous paintings and is treated as a national treasure collected in the Palace Museum of Beijing. This hand scroll painting is 25.2 cm in height and 528.7cm long. It vividly depicts the lives of people of all ranks in the capital city of Bianjing (today’s Kaifeng, Henan Province) during the Qingming Festival. The bustling road, busy market, vigorous village, heavy traffic, and business trade reveal the splendor and real economic condition of the capital city at that time.

A part of painting
By Shirley Li
Web Editor