The Qingming Festival (清明節), also known as Tomb Sweeping Day is a traditional Chinese festival that falls on 4 or 5 April every year. In 2018, it falls on 5 April (Thursday). It is the 15th day after the Spring Equinox (春分). Its importance is similar to the All Souls Day in the West.

 

Graves are laid with flowers to show respect of the deceased relatives
Graves are laid with flowers to show respect of the deceased relatives

 

The festival is the time for people to visit the tombs of the ancestors. People remember and pray for their ancestors. They sweep the tombs and offer to the deceased food, tea, wine, burn joss sticks, joss paper or ghost money, and paper models of everyday items that one may possess in real life such as food, clothes, car, mobile phone, fridge, microwave, and even apartment and house.  The idea is to make sure the deceased can enjoy a good afterlife. Nowadays, some people offer flowers instead.

 

Traditional joss paper (ghost money)
Traditional joss paper (ghost money)

 

Modern joss paper (ghost cash, cheque books, travel tickets, passport and credit cards)
Modern joss paper (ghost cash, cheque books, travel tickets, passport and credit cards)

 

Offerings : paper models of wallet, smart phone, watch, car key, pen, cigarete lighter and sun-glasses
Offerings : paper models of wallet, smart phone, watch, car key, pen, cigarette lighter and sun-glasses

 

Paper models of household items : refrigerators, gas stoves, oven, washing machine, air conditioner, sound system, painting
Offerings : paper models of household items – refrigerators, gas stoves, oven, washing machine, air conditioner, digital wide screen TV set, sound system

 

Modern joss paper (ghost clothes and accessories)
Offerings : paper models of clothes, shoes, gold bars and other personal items

 

Modern joss paper (ghost food : BBQ suckling pig, roast duck, chicken)
Offerings : paper models of BBQ suckling pig, roast duck, steamed chicken

 

The rites of Qingming Festival have a long tradition especially among farmers. This is the time they will start the spring ploughing. Some people carry willow branches with them or put willow branches on their gates and/or front doors. They believe the willow branches will help ward off the evil spirit that wanders on Qingming.

Qingming Festival is also the time to enjoy the greenery of springtime (tà qīng, ‘treading on the greenery’ 踏青). People go on family outings with singing and dancing. In the old days, Qingming was also a time when young couples traditionally started courting. Another popular thing to do is to fly kites. Recently, tree-planting is a popular activity in the festival.

The festival was associated with the Hanshi Festival (Cold Food Festival). Please read my separate page on Hanshi Festival.

Special foods consumed in the Qingming Festival
qingtuan, green dumplings
Qingtuan (青團), green dumplings

 

Qingtuan (青團), green dumplings made of glutinous rice and barley grass are consumed on the day. In Taiwan, they are known as cao zai guo (草仔粿).

The Qingming festival 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. They are prized for having much lighter and subtle aromas than those picked after the festival.

 

In literature

Qingming was frequently mentioned in Chinese literature. The most famous one is probably Du Mu’s (杜牧) poem (entitled ‘Qingming’):

清明時節雨紛紛, 路上行人欲斷魂. 借問酒家何處有, 牧童遙指杏花村.

A drizzling rain falls on Qingming Festival. The people’s hearts are breaking on their way. Inquiring, where a tavern can be found? A cowherd points to the Apricot Flower Village at a distance.

 

More poems :

宋  王禹偁

無花無酒過清明,興味蕭然似野僧。

昨日鄰家乞新火,曉窗分與讀書燈。

 

唐  韓翃

春城無處不飛花,寒食東風御柳斜。

日暮漢宮傳蠟燭,輕煙散入五侯家。

 

  張繼

耕夫召募愛樓船,春草青青萬頃田;

試上吳門窺郡郭,清明幾處有新煙

 

 吳惟信

梨花風起正清明,遊子尋春半出城。

日暮笙歌收拾去,萬株楊柳屬流鶯。

 

   楊萬里

逕直夫何細!橋危可免扶?

遠山楓外淡,破屋麥邊孤。

宿草春風又,新阡去歲無。

梨花自寒食,進節只愁餘。

 

  程顥

芳草綠野恣行事,春入遙山碧四周;

興逐亂紅穿柳巷,固因流水坐苔磯;

莫辭盞酒十分勸,只恐風花一片紅;

況是清明好天氣,不妨遊衍莫忘歸

 

Acknowledgements :

I would like to thank Mr Ben Leung of Leung Wai Kee Buddhist Craft and Joss Stick Shop, Sydney for his kind advice and support.

 

Further readings :

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Qingming_Festival

http://zh.wikipedia.org/wiki/%E6%B8%85%E6%98%8E (清明)

http://www.china.com.cn/ch-jieri/qingming/4.htm (清明詩句)

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One thought on “Qingming Festival (清明節)

  1. Dear Patrick,
    Thank you very much for these comprehensive information to refresh my memories and appreciation about qingming.

    Best Regards,
    Michael Cheng

    Liked by 1 person

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