The Qing Ming Festival - a Chinese holiday that commemorates family ancestors

28 February 2017

Alongside the Spring, Dragon Boat and Mid-autumn Festivals, the Qing Ming Festival (清明节 Qing míng Jié) is one of the most important traditional festivals in China. It is also known as Tomb Sweeping Day, which falls on April 4th or 5th of the Gregorian calendar.

Image of tomb sweeping

This year the Qing Ming Festival falls on April 4. (Qing Ming means” clear and bright” in Chinese) is one of the Chinese Twenty-four Solar Terms. From that date temperatures in China are said to rise and rainfall increases, indicating that it is the crucial time for ploughing and sowing in the spring. However, the Qing Ming Festival is not only a seasonal point to guide agriculture; it is also a festival of commemoration which dates back to the Zhou Dynasty, 2500 years ago.

‘Tomb sweeping’ is the most important custom of the Qing Ming Festival and for that reason the festival is also known as Tomb Sweeping Day. The day is an occasion to commemorate and pay respect to the ancestors by clearing away weeds and adding fresh soil to the tombs. The dead person's favourite food and wine are taken as a sacrifice, along with paper resembling money. This is all burned in the hope that the deceased are not lacking food and money. The Chinese traditional belief is that the afterlife is quite similar to this life and it is one of many ways to express Chinese people’s “filial piety”( xiào). The Qing Ming Festival is a national holiday in China, Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan with most people having the day off from work or school to allow time to travel to ancestral gravesites. On each Qing Ming Festival, all cemeteries are crowded with people who come to sweep tombs and offer sacrifices.

In contrast to the sadness of the tomb sweeping activities, people also enjoy hope of spring on this day. The Qing Ming Festival is a time when the sun shines brightly, the trees and grass become green and blossom and nature awakes after the long winter months. It is a very popular time for tourists and one can see people taking part in a number of outdoor activities, such as country walks (踏青 Tàqing), flying kites, Chinese football, willow-planting, tug-of-war, and rooster-fighting.

Over time, a lot of art work was centred around Qingming, demonstrating the emphasis of the passing-on of the Chinese people. One of the most well-known is Along the River during the Qingming Festival, by Zhang Zeduan (1085–1145).

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