Qingming Festival

Qingming Festival
Qingming
Qingming
Burning paper gifts for the departed.
Official name Qingming Jie
(TC: 清明節, SC:清明节)
Also called Tomb Sweeping Day
All Souls Day
Observed by Chinese, Buddhist
Significance Remembering past ancestors
Date 15th day from the Spring Equinox
Apr. 4, 5 or 6
2010 date April 4
2011 date April 5
2012 date April 5
Observances Cleaning and sweeping of graves, Ancestor worship, offering food to deceased, burning joss paper

The Qingming Festival (simplified Chinese: 清明节; traditional Chinese: 清明節; pinyin: Qīngmíng Jié; Pe̍h-ōe-jī: Chheng-bêng-cheh or Chhiⁿ-miâ-choeh, Ching Ming Festival in Hong Kong, Vietnamese: Tết Thanh Minh), Pure Brightness Festival or 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 (踏青 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 nation wide public holiday in mainland China in 2008, after having been previously suppressed by the ruling Communist Party in 1949.[1][2]

The transcription of the term Qingming may appear in a number of different forms, some of which are Qingming, Qing Ming, Qing Ming Jie, Ching Ming (official in Hong Kong[3]) and Ching Ming Chieh.

Contents

Introduction

The holiday is known by a number of names in the English language:

  • All Souls Day (not to be confused with the Roman Catholic holiday, All Souls Day, of the same name)
  • Clear Bright Festival
  • Ancestors Day
  • Festival for Tending Graves
  • Grave Sweeping Day
  • Chinese Memorial Day
  • Tomb Sweeping Day
  • Spring Remembrance

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.

Origin

Qingming Festival is when Chinese people visit the graves or burial grounds of their ancestors. Traditionally, people brought a whole rooster with them to the graves visited but the occasion has become less formal over time. The festival originated from Hanshi Day (, literally, Day with cold food only), a memorial day for Jie Zitui (, or Jie Zhitui, ). Jie Zitui died in 636 BC in the Spring and Autumn Period. He was one of many followers of Duke Wen of Jin before he became a duke. Once, during Wen's 19 years of exile, they had no food and Jie prepared some meat soup for Wen. Wen enjoyed it a lot and wondered where Jie had obtained the soup. It turned out Jie had cut a piece of meat from his own thigh to make the soup. Wen was so moved he promised to reward him one day. However, Jie was not the type of person who sought rewards. Instead, he just wanted to help Wen to return to Jin to become king. Once Wen became duke, Jie resigned and stayed away from him. Duke Wen 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 went to the forest, but could not find Jie. Heeding suggestions from his officials, Duke Wen ordered men to set the forest on fire to force out Jie. However, Jie died in the fire. Feeling remorseful, Duke Wen ordered three days without fire to honour Jie's memory. The county where Jie died is still called Jiexiu (介休, literally "the place Jie rests forever").

Qingming has a tradition stretching back more than 2,500 years.[4] 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.[5] The observance of Qingming found a firm place in Chinese culture and continued since Ancient China

Celebration

The Qingming Festival is an opportunity for celebrants to remember and honour 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 libations 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.

On Qingming people go on family outings, start the spring plowing, sing, and dance. Qingming is also the time when young couples start courting. Another popular thing to do is to fly kites in the shapes of animals or characters from Chinese opera.[5] Another common practice is to carry flowers instead of burning paper, incense or firecrackers.[4]

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 the right of free expression is generally recognized, as in Hong Kong. In most areas of China observance of sensitive events are suppressed and all public mention of such events is taboo.[4] In Taiwan this 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.

Despite having no holiday status, the overseas Chinese communities in Southeast Asian nations, such as those in Singapore and Malaysia, take this festival seriously and observe its traditions faithfully. Some Qingming rituals and ancestral veneration decorum observed by the oversea Chinese in Malaysia and Singapore can be dated back to Ming and Qing dynasties, as the oversea communities were not affected by the Cultural Revolution in Mainland China. Qingming in Malaysia is an elaborate family function or a clan feast (usually organized by the respective clan association) to commemorate and honour recently deceased relatives at their grave sites and distant ancestors from China at home altars, clan temples or makeshift altars in Buddhist or Taoist temples. For the oversea Chinese community, the Qingming festival is very much a family celebration and, at the same time, a family obligation. They see this festival as a time of reflection and to honour and give thanks to their forefathers. Overseas Chinese normally visit the graves of their recently deceased relatives on the nearest weekend to the actual date. According to the ancient custom, grave site veneration is only feasible ten days before and after the Qingming Festival. If the visit is not on the actual date, normally veneration before Qingming is encouraged. The Qingming Festival in Malaysia and Singapore normally starts early in the morning by paying respect to distant ancestors from China at home altars. This is followed by visiting the graves of close relatives in the country. Some follow the concept of filial piety to the extent of visiting the graves of their ancestors in mainland China. Traditionally, the family will burn spirit money and paper replicas of material goods such as cars, homes, phones and paper servants. In Chinese culture, it is believed that people still need all of those things in the afterlife. Then family members start take turns to kowtow three to nine times (depending on the family adherence to traditional values) before the tomb of the ancestors. The Kowtowing ritual in front of the grave is performed in the order of patriarchal seniority within the family. After the ancestor worship at the grave site, the whole family or the whole clan feast on the food and drink they brought for the worship either at the site or in 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 friend and servant Jie Zhitui (介之推) (or Jie Zitui) and Jie Zitui's mother. Chong'er ordered the hills in which they were hiding set on fire in the hope that Jie Zitui would return to his service, but the fire killed Jie and his mother. Because of this, people were not allowed to use fires to heat up food and the date became named Hanshi. Eventually, 300 years ago, the Hanshi "celebration" was combined with the Qingming festival and later abandoned by most people.

In Chinese tea culture

The Qingming festival holiday 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' () 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.[citation needed]

In painting

The famous Qingming scroll by Zhang Zeduan is an ancient Chinese painting which portrays the scene of Kaifeng city, the capital of the Song Dynasty during a Qingming festival.

Panorama of Along the River During the Qingming Festival, 12th century original by Zhang Zeduan (1085-1145)
Panorama of Along the River During the Qingming Festival, an 18th century remake of the 12th century original

In literature

Qingming was frequently mentioned in Chinese literature. Among these, the most famous one is probably Du Mu's poem (simply titled "Qingming"):

Traditional Chinese Simplified Chinese pinyin English translation
清明時節雨紛紛 清明时节雨纷纷 qīng míng shí jié yǔ fēn fēn A drizzling rain falls like tears on the Mourning Day;
路上行人欲斷魂 路上行人欲断魂 lù shàng xíng rén yù duàn hún The mourner's heart is breaking on his way.
借問酒家何處有 借问酒家何处有 jiè wèn jiǔ jiā hé chù yǒu Where can a winehouse be found to drown his sadness?
牧童遙指杏花村 牧童遥指杏花村 mù tóng yáo zhǐ xìng huā cūn A cowherd points to Almond Flower (Xing Hua) Village in the distance.

(The word 酒家 can have multiple meanings: winehouse or restaurant, also hostel, hotel or motel. The most common and most appropriate translation for '酒家' should be 'inn.'"

In the Vietnamese epic poem The Tale of Kieu, Qingming is mentioned as the occasion when the protagonist Kieu meets a ghost of a dead old lady. The lines describing the sceneries during this festival remain some of the most well-known lines in Vietnamese literature:

Vietnamese English translation

Ngày xuân con én đưa thoi
Thiều quang chín chục đã ngoài sáu mươi
Cỏ non xanh tận chân trời
Cành lê trắng điểm một vài bông hoa
Thanh Minh trong tiết tháng ba
Lễ là Tảo mộ, hội là Đạp thanh
Gần xa nô nức yến oanh
Chị em sắm sửa bộ hành chơi xuân

Swift swallows and spring days were shuttling by;
Of ninety radiant ones three score had fled.
Young grass spread all its green to heaven's rim;
Some blossoms marked pear branches with white dots.
Now came the Feast of Light in the third month
With graveyard rites and junkets on the green.
As merry pilgrims flocked from near and far,
The sisters and their brother went for a stroll.

See also

References

  1. ^ SCMP. "SCMP." Ching Ming festival, once branded superstition, is revived as holiday. Retrieved on 2008-04-04.
  2. ^ Xinhuanet.com "Xinhuanet.com." How will people spend China's 1st Qingming Festival holiday?. Retrieved on 2008-04-04.
  3. ^ Hong Kong Government. "General holidays for 2008." Retrieved on 2008-04-04.
  4. ^ a b c China's restless dead on Tomb-Sweeping Day, UPI, April 8, 2009
  5. ^ a b The Qingming Festival, Embassy of PRC in Sweden

External links


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