Being the first week of April we find ourselves celebrating Qing Ming (Tomb Sweeping Day) which is when Chinese travel to the family tomb to sweep, clean and place flowers or other memorials on the grave site. The day is spent commemorating the dead as well as celebrating the oncoming spring. Qing Ming Jie literally “clear bright holiday”. This Year the holiday lands on April 4th.
Since hundreds of thousand people jump into their cars or rent buses and take to the road, the day is notorious for horrible traffic. Roads are full from dawn til dusk so you may want to do your grocery shopping early.
Qing Ming is super important to Chinese as they traditionally believe their ancestor’s spirits look after the family. Many traditional Chinese families have an altar at home where ancestor’s photos are placed and offerings such as food, flowers and incense are given to keep them well fed and happy.
The tradition of Qing Ming began in the Tang Dynasty (618–907 AD) however ancestor worship has been a long ongoing tradition in China.
Traditional Tomb Sweeping Day activities:
- Day of mourning for deceased ancestors
- Make traditional offerings to ancestors of food, flowers
- Fly kites
- No cooking is done, only cold dishes are served
- Take a walk in the countryside to enjoy spring
- Sweep, clean and decorate the tomb
What Is the Origin of Qing Ming?
Qing Ming is based on the Hanshi Festival (Cold Festival) which has gradually been absorbed into the Tomb Sweeping Day festivities.
The Festival commemorated Jie Zitui, a loyal court official from the Eastern Zhou Dynasty who was a loyal minister to Prince Chong Er. During a civil war, both had to flee their city and were exiled for 19-years. According to legend, Jie was so loyal during their exile he cut out pieces of his leg to feed the Prince when they were short of food. When Chong Er returned to the city and became king he rewarded all who had helped him during his exile but forgot about Jie.
Jie’s friends advised him to remind Chong Er he should also be repaid for his loyalty but he ignored their advice and moved to the mountain side. When Chong Er learned of this he went to the mountain side to look for Jie but was unable to find him so he set fire to the forest to force Jie out. After the fire had extinguished they went to the mountain side and found the bodies of Jie and his mother next to a willow tree.
To commemorate Jie’s death, Chong Er created the Hanshi Festival where no fires can be lit on that day. One year later, Chong Er went back to the willow tree to hold a memorial ceremony for Jie. When he arrived he had found the willow tree in bloom again. The Hanshi Festival became known as the ‘Pure Brightness Festival.
How is Tomb Sweeping Day Celebrated?
Tomb Sweeping Day is celebrated by families reuniting and traveling to their ancestors’ grave sites to pay their respects and clean their tombstone by sweeping it and removing weeds, adding new earth and placing willow branches atop. Paper Money that resembles ancient currency is folded weeks ahead of time and the money is burned as gifts for their ancestor. While the money burns the family members show their respects by bowing.
Fresh flowers may also be placed at the tomb but in ancient times five-colored paper was placed underneath a stone to signify that someone had visited the grave.
With hectic work schedules, some families choose to make the trip earlier or later in April. Some families opt to have a few families’ members to make the trip on behalf of the whole family.