Qingming Festival (清明节) is one of the most important traditional festivals in China. It falls on April 4th or 5th. In 2024, Qingming Festival falls on April 4th, when most Chinese people will enjoy a public holiday.
Qingming Festival is also called Tomb Sweeping Day as it is the time for Chinese people to show respect to their ancestors by cleaning their ancestors' tombs and placing offerings.
In addition, Qingming (清明) in Chinese mean 'clearness' and 'brightness'. It is the fifth of the 24 solar terms of the traditional Chinese solar calendar, marking the start of the warm weather of spring and the beginning of farm work.
- How do Chinese People Celebrate Qingming Festival?
- Is It Proper to Say "Happy Qingming Festival"?
- Why Qingming Festival Is Celebrated
How Do Chinese Celebrate the Qingming Festival? (Not Just Tomb Sweeping)
There are various activities for Qingming Festival. The most popular ones, such as tomb upkeep and repair, spring outings, kite flying, and putting willow branches on gates, have been an important part of this festival since its beginning.
Tomb Sweeping — the Most Important Custom of Qingming Festival
People commemorate and show respect to their ancestors by visiting their graves, and offering their spirits food, tea or wine, burning incense, burning or offering joss paper (representing money), etc. They sweep the tombs, remove weeds, and add fresh soil to the graves. They might plant willow branches, flowers, or plastic plants on the tombs.
They pray before their ancestors' graves and beseech them to bless their families. However, the custom has been greatly simplified today, especially in cities, where many people only place flowers to remember their dead relatives. Because of their busy work and being far from their family homes, many young people now cannot conduct tomb sweeping in person, and online tomb-sweeping ceremonies now take place in many cities.
With different times observed regionally, ethnically, and even locally to do tomb sweeping in China, the custom mainly happens sometime during the 10 days before or after the day of Qingming Festival.
Suggested Reading: Auspicious Time for China's Tomb Sweeping
Things Not to Do When Tomb Sweeping
- Don't take photos in cemeteries (or in other tomb areas), as this is considered disrespectful and a bringer of bad luck.
- Don't sweep tombs after 3pm as it is believed to be inauspicious.
- Don't wear clothes with bright colors or skimpy clothes.
- Don't reverse the order of sacrifice. The right order is as follows: renovate the tomb, offer incense and sacrifices, toast the deceased, and finally kowtow or bow in worship.
- Don't eat or laugh loudly when performing the rituals, as this is considered disrespectful.
- Don't visit friends and relatives on Tomb Sweeping Day as it is a special day for commemorating the departed.
- Do not participate in others' grave sweeping as it will bring bad luck.
Putting Willow Branches on Gates
During the Qingming Festival, some people wear soft willow branches and place the branches on gates and front doors. People believe that this custom will ward off wandering evil spirits during Qingming.
That willows are considered magical is mainly a Buddhist influence. Traditional pictures of the Goddess of Mercy Guanyin often show her seated on a rock with a willow branch in a vase of water at her side. The goddess used this mysterious water and branch to scare away demons.
According to historical records, there is an old saying: 'Put willow branches up on gates; drive ghosts away from houses.'
Spring Outings and Kite Flying
Qingming is also called Taqing Festival. Taqing (踏青 /taa-ching/ 'tread green') means a spring outing, when people get out and enjoy the spring blossoms. The festival usually falls on a day not long before everything turns green in the north, and well into the spring flower season in the south.
It marks the weather warming up, when people spend more time outside. Flying kites is for relaxation on this holiday, and to some it means getting rid of misfortune.
Qingming travel has also become popular. Check out some tour destinations recommended for April.
Is it Proper to Say "Happy Qingming Festival"?
Unlike the Day of the Dead in Mexico, which is filled with great joy, the Qingming Festival is primarily associated with showing respect for departed spirits and making sacrifices. Therefore, it is not suitable to greet others with words like "happy," "joyful," "merry," and so on.
To greet others without offense on Qingming day, it is better and more polite to say:
- Wishing you all best for Qingming Festival. (清明安好)
- Wishing you health and safety for Qingming Festival. (清明健康平安)
To know more details about Qingming Festival Greetings.
What Are Traditional Foods for Qingming Festival?
Different places have different foods for Qingming Festival. The traditional Qingming festival foods include sweet green rice balls, crispy cakes, Qingming Zong. These foods are usually cooked one or two days before the arrival of the Qingming Festival so people can eat and recreate during the holidays.
Sweet Green Rice Balls
Sweet Green Rice Balls (青团 qīngtuán /ching-twann/ 'green dumpling(s)') are a popular Qingming food that are made of a mixture of glutinous rice powder and green vegetable juice and stuffed with sweetened bean paste. Sweet green rice balls are jade-green in color, glutinous in taste, and sweet in aroma.
Qingming cakes are called sazi (撒子sāzi /saa-dzuh/ [phonetic]) or hanju (寒具 hánjù /han-jyoo/ 'cold tools'). They are a crispy fried food that are made of wheat flour or glutinous rice flour, eggs, sesame, onion, salt, and other ingredients.
Among some Chinese ethnic minorities, such as the Uygur in Xinjiang, the Dongxiang in Gansu, the Naxi in Yunnan, and the Hui in Ningxia, sazi is famed for its great variety and many flavors.
Qingming Zong (Rice Dumplings)
Rice dumplings are not only for Dragon Boat Festival. In fact, they have become popular as a take-out food. Zongzi are sticky rice dumplings filled with pork, chestnut, and red beans (sometimes this varies), and wrapped in bamboo leaves. They are also commonly used and eaten at Qingming Festival, as they are very convenient for offering and taking on spring outings.
Why is Qingming Festival Celebrated?
Mian Mountain is also called Jieshan ('Jie Mountain') after Jie Zitui (?–636 BC). He protected the prince of the State of Jin, Chong'er, who went into exile due to civil unrest and persecution in 655 BC.
In the face of hunger and cold on the way, when Prince Chong'er was about to starve to death, Jie Zitui cut a piece of flesh off his thigh to cook a meat soup.
Nineteen years later, in 636 BC, Prince Chong'er took power and became a king as Duke Wen of Jin State (697–628 BC). Duke Wen greatly rewarded and honored all of his followers, but he forgot Jie Zitui. Meanwhile, Jie had lived in seclusion with his mother on Mian Mountain. The duke felt ashamed and decided to find Jie.
As it was difficult to find a person in the mountains, a malicious subject who was jealous of Jie suggested setting fire to the mountain to flush him out. After the fire, the duke and his people found the two burned bodies of Jie and his mother on the mountain.
The duke regretted this deeply, and designated the day as 'Cold Food Festival'. It was the day before Qingming Festival. In order to commemorate Jie, people ate cold food and banned fire on that day. And so, the Qingming cold food tradition lived on with this legend.
As time passed, the two festivals were gradually combined into one. On the day of the Cold Food Festival, people used no fire and only ate cold food. Now people in some places still have the custom of eating cold food on Qingming Festival.
Is the Painting 'Along the River During Qingming Festival' Qingming-Related?
The renowned scroll painting 'Along the River During the Qingming Festival' is a Chinese painting by artist Zhang Zeduan in the Song Dynasty (960–1279). This painting has been controversial due to the debate as to whether it actually depicts scenes on the day of Qingming Festival.
In one opinion, the picture refers to Qingming Festival, but shows the results of the sacrifice ceremony rather than its performance. It is thought to depict prosperous scenes of ancient people's life and business activities after sweeping their tombs.
Another point of view is that the scroll actually shows autumn scenery and is a tribute to peaceful and orderly policy in the capital of the Song Dynasty.
Qingming Festival in Other Asian Countries
Besides China, many other countries also celebrate Tomb Sweeping Festival. They are mainly in Asia, but celebrations are also seen in other countries with Chinese communities.
Qingming Festival in Vietnam
In Vietnam, Qingming Festival is on month 3 day 3 of the lunar calendar. Vietnamese people have similar traditional as in China: tomb sweeping, spring outings, cold food, etc. Unlike in China, it is not a public holiday.
Qingming Festival is also called Tangyuan Festival. Vietnamese glutinous rice balls are filled with mung beans. They are cooked and placed in a bowl and mixed with sugar and water for consumption. In the past, Vietnamese would never eat Tangyuan before the third day of March. Because in Vietnam, for respect to the gods and ancestors, no food is allowed to be eaten before offering.
Qingming Festival in Singapore
When Chinese Singaporeans go to do tomb sweeping, they offer sacrifices to the God of the Soil and the Ground first and then set food, drink, fruit, and flowers in front of tombs, burn paper money, and kowtow in worship. Generally, clams, crabs, chicken, and duck are indispensable for their offerings, but the difference is: they usually eat up all the food and drink there, by the tombs, and then go home.
Some Singaporean people who have converted to Christianity only commemorate their ancestors by lighting candles and placing flowers.
Qingming Festival in South Korea
In South Korea, Qingming Festival is on April 5th.
Unlike in other countries, paper money is not burned when worshipping ancestors in South Korea to protect against wildfires. One of the most important activities is to refurbish the tombs of dead relatives. Those who can't get to the cemetery in person will usually put a memorial tablet in a temple or at home, and then place wine, fruit, wormwood rice cake, and other offerings in front to show respect to their ancestors.
Qingming Festival in Japan
In Japan, only in Okinawa are tomb sweeping activities done around April 5th. Most Japanese people celebrate Bon Festival instead, which is usually around August 13th to 16th. It is the second most important festival in Japan following New Year's Day. During Bon Festival, people will go back to their hometowns to pay homage to their ancestors. It's also a good opportunity for family gathering.
Japanese people believe ancestors will come back home during Bon Festival. They put lanterns in front of their houses to guide the spirits home. On the last day of the festival, they put offerings in the nearby rivers to say goodbye to the ancestral spirits.