The Qingming Festival, Clear Bright Festival, Ancestors Day or Tomb Sweeping Day is a traditional Chinese festival on the 104th day after the winter solstice (or the 15th day from the Spring Equinox), usually occurring around April 5 of the Gregorian calendar (see Chinese calendar). Astronomically it is also a solar term (See Qingming). The Qingming festival falls on the first day of the fifth solar term, named Qingming. Its name denotes a time for people to go outside and enjoy the greenery of springtime (Tàqīng, “treading on the greenery”) and tend to the graves of departed ones.
Qingming has been regularly observed as a statutory public holiday in Taiwan and in the Chinese jurisdictions of Hong Kong and Macau. Its observance was reinstated as a public holiday in mainland China in 2008, after having been previously suppressed by the ruling Communist Party in 1949.
Tomb Sweeping Day and Clear Bright Festival are the most common English translations of Qingming Festival. Tomb Sweeping Day is used in several English language newspapers published in Taiwan.
Qinming Festival originated from Hanshi Day (literally, Day with cold food only), memorial day for Jie Zitui (or Jie Zhitui,). He died in 636 BC in the Spring and Autumn Period. He was one of many followers of Duke Wen of Jin before he became Duke. One time during Duke Wen of Jin’s 19 years of exile, they didn’t have any food, and Jie prepared some meat soup for Duke Wen of Jin, who enjoyed it a lot and wondered where Jie got the soup. It turned out Jie cut a piece of meat from his own thigh to make the soup. Duke Wen of Jin was so moved, he promised to reward him on day. However Jie was not the type of people who sought rewards, instead, he just wanted to help Duke Wen of Jin to return to Jin to become Duke. Once Duke Wen of Jin succeeded the throne of Duke, Jie resigned and stayed away from the Duke. Duke Wen of Jin rewarded the people who helped him in the decades, but for some reason, he forgot to reward Jie, who by then had moved into the forest with his mother. Duke Wen of Jin went to the forest, but couldn’t find Jie. Heeding suggestions from his officials, Duke Wen of Jin ordered to set the forest in fire to force out Jie, however, Jie died in the fire. Feeling so remorse, Duke Wen of Jin ordered the 3 days without fire to honor Jie’s memory. The county where Jie died is still called Jiexiu (literally meaning the place Jie resting forever).
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Qingming has a tradition stretching back more than 2,500 years. Its origin is credited to the Tang Emperor Xuanzong in 732. Wealthy citizens in China were reportedly holding too many extravagant and ostentatiously expensive ceremonies in honour of their ancestors. Emperor Xuanzong, seeking to curb this practice, declared that respects could be formally paid at ancestors’ graves only on Qingming. The observance of Qingming found a firm place in Chinese culture and continued uninterrupted for over two millennia. In 1949 the Communist Party of China repealed the holiday. Observance of Qingming remained suppressed until 2008, when the Party reinstated the holiday.
The Qingming Festival is an opportunity for celebrants to remember and honor 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 libation 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. Also on Qingming people go on family outings, start the spring plowing, sing, dance, and Qingming is a time where young couples start courting. Another popular thing to do is fly kites (in shapes of animals or characters from Chinese opera). Others carry flowers instead of burning paper, incense or firecrackers as is common.
The holiday is often marked by people paying respects to those who died in events considered sensitive in China. The April Fifth Movement and the Tiananmen Incident were major events on Qingming that took place in the history of the People’s Republic of China. 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 the graves of Zhao Ziyang and Yang Jia in areas where rights of free expression are generally recognized, as in Hong Kong; in most areas of China such observances are suppressed and all public mention of such subjects is taboo. In Taiwan the national holiday is observed on April 5 because the ruling Kuomintang moved it to that date in commemoration of the death of Chiang Kai-shek on April 5. The holiday is nevertheless observed in the traditional manner, with families gathering to honour their own ancestors, visit and maintain their family shrines, and share traditional meals.
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Despite having no holiday status, the overseas Chinese communities in Southeast Asian nations such as those in Singapore and Malaysia take this festival seriously; deep in heritage, rituals and strict decorum. Qing Ming in Malaysia is an elaborate family function or a clan feast (usually organized by the respective clan association) to commemorate and honor their late relations at grave site and their distant ancestry of China at home altar, clan temple or a makeshift altar in a Buddhist or Taoist temple. For the oversea community, Qing ming festival is very much a family heritage and at the same, a family obligation. The overseas Chinese see this festival as a time to reflect, honor and give thanks to their forefathers. The oversea Chinese normally visit the graves of their late relations at the nearest weekend of the actual date. According to the ancient custom, grave site veneration is only feasible 10 days before and after Qingming Festival. If the visit is not on the actual date normally veneration before Qingming is encouraged. Qingming Festival in Malaysia and Singapore normally started early in the morning, with the ancestral veneration at home altar- paying respect to the distant ancestors from China. This would be followed by visiting the graves of their close relations in the country. Some would take the extent of filial piety to visit the graves of their ancestors in mainland China. Traditionally, family will burn paper money (paper have imprint of money) and paper replica of some material good such car, maid, home, phone, and etc. In Chinese culture, even though a person died, he/she may still need all of these in the afterlife. There should always an even number of dishes put in front of the grave and a bowl of rice with incense stick upright. Then, family members start taking turn to bow before the tomb of the ancestors. Bowing will go in order, which starts with the most senior member of the family and so on. After the ancestor worship at the grave site, the whole family or the whole clan would be feasting the food and drinks they brought for the worship at the site or nearby gardens in the memorial park, signifying family reunion with the ancestors.
Hanshi, the day before Qingming, was created by Chong’er, the Duke Wen of the state of Jin during the Spring and Autumn Period. The festival was established after Chong’er accidentally burned to death his personal friend and servant Jie Zhitui (or Jie Zitui) and Jie Zitui’s mother. Chong’er ordered the hills they were hiding in set on fire in hopes that Jie Zitui would return to his service, but the fire killed Jie and his mother. On Hanshi, people were not allowed to use fires to heat up food, thus nicknaming it the Cold Food Festival. Eventually, 300 years ago, the Hanshi “celebration” was combined with the Qingming festival, but later abandoned by most people.
The Qingming festival holiday holds significance in 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 is given the prestigious ‘pre-qingming’ or ‘mingqian’ 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.(I download the last two paragraph from the internet)
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