china’s qingming festival
With the arrival of spring, a special festival has just taken place in China and Intrepid’s Sunny Bin helps explain the history behind the local traditions…
“I always think that the Chinese farmer’s calendar is more sensitive, and really makes you realise the passage of time. This calendar divides the whole year into 24 segments based on the slightest change in nature, such as the walking of the insect and the first spring rain.
It seems like only yesterday I was introducing the Spring Equinox customs to my Intrepid group on the way to Great Wall on 20th of March, then all of a sudden, I’m in southern China on the 5th of April telling them stories about Qingming, or Grave-sweeping Day.
Qingming is popularly associated with Jie Zidui in the Spring and Autumn period (770 BC-476BC), who saved his starving lord’s life by serving meat cut from his own leg. The lord, known as Jinwengong, was later able to take power and decided to reward Jie, but he declined and hid away in a forest. Jinwengong tried to force Jie out of a forest by fire, but instead burned him to death and felt deep regret. He ordered all his people to ban the use of fire and eat cold food that day to mark Jie’s death.
This is the origin of the cold food festival, which starts one or two days before Qingming and later merges with Qingming. Qingming then became an important holiday from a simple farming day.
Nowadays, people can have three days off in Qingming festival. People do all kind of activities, but most importantly the whole family gets together and honours their forebear’s grave. Grass on the tomb is trimmed. Some joss stick and paper money are burned. Anyway, it is more like a combined remembrance journey and spring outing, as the food offering to the ancestor, more often than not, would be shared and eaten on the spot.
You always feel like something is missing if it is not raining during Qingming. Indeed it is pouring down outside now, which reminds me of the famous Qingming poem composed in Tang dynasty (618-907) that still resonates today:
A drizzling rain falls like tears on the grave-sweeping day;
The mourner’s heart is breaking on his way.
Where can a tavern be found to drown his sadness?
A cowherd points to Almond Flower Village in the distance.”