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 2021, it falls on 4 April (Sunday). It is always the 15th day after the Spring Equinox (春分). Its importance is similar to the All Souls Day in the West.
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.
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 (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.
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 :
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 :