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Qingming Festival

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Official name Qingming Jie
(TC: 清明節, SC:清明节)
Also called Tomb Sweeping Day
All Souls Day
Observed by Chinese
Significance Remembering past ancestors
Date 15th day from the Spring Equinox
Apr.4th, 5th or 6th
Observances Cleaning and sweeping of graves, Ancestor worship, offering food to deceased, burning ghost money

The Qingming Festival (Traditional Chinese: 清明節; Simplified Chinese: 清明节; Pinyin: Qīngmíngjié}}, Ching Ming Festival in Hong Kong, Vietnamese: Tết Thanh Minh), Clear Bright Festival, Ancestors Day or Tomb Sweeping Day is a traditional Chinese festival on the 104th day after the winter solstice (or the fifteenth day from the Spring Equinox), usually occurring around April 5 of the Gregorian calendar. Astronomically it is also a solar term. 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 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])
  • Ching Ming Chieh


The holiday is known by a number 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.


Qinming Festival originated from Hanshi Day (寒食节, literally, Day with cold food only), a memorial day for Jie Zitui (介子推, or Jie Zhitui, 介子推). Jie Zitui died in 636 BCE in the Spring and Autumn Period. He was one of many followers of Duke Wen of Jin before he became a Duke. One time, during Wen's nineteen years of exile, they did not have any food and Jie prepared some meat soup for Wen. Wen enjoyed it a lot and wondered where Jie got 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 Duke. Once Wen became Duke, Jie resigned and stayed away from the Duke. 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 couldn't 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 meaning 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 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 honour their ancestors at grave sites. Young and old pray before the ancestors, sweep the tombs and offer food, tea, wine, chopsticks,ghost money 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).[5] Others carry flowers instead of burning paper, incense or firecrackers is common.[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 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.[4][6] 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.

Despite having no holiday status, the overseas Chinese communities in Southeast Asian nations such as those in Singapore and Malaysia take this festival seriously. Qingming in Malaysia is an elaborate family function or a clan feast (usually organized by the respective clan association) to commemorate and honour late relatives at the grave site and distant ancestors from China at a home altar, clan temple or a makeshift altar in a Buddhist or Taoist temple. For the overseas community, Qingming festival is very much a family celebration and at the same, a family obligation. The overseas Chinese see this festival as a time to reflect, honour and give thanks to their forefathers. They normally visit the graves of their late 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 Qingming Festival. If the visit is not on the actual date normally veneration before Qingming is encouraged. Qingming Festival in Malaysia and Singapore normally starts early in the morning, with ancestral veneration at a home altar- paying respect to distant ancestors from China. This would be followed by visiting the graves of their close relatives in the country. Some believe that Confucian filial piety requires them to visit the graves of their ancestors in mainland China. Traditionally, family will burn ghost money and paper replicas of some material goods such cars homes and phones and paper servants. In Chinese culture, it is believed that people still need those things in the afterlife. There should always an even number of dishes put in front of the grave and a bowl of rice with incense sticking upright. Then, family members start taking turns to bow before the tomb of the ancestors. Bowing will go in order of seniority, starting with the most senior member of the family. After the ancestor worship at the grave site, the whole family or the whole clan feast on the food and drinks 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 personal friend and servant Jie Zhitui (介之推) (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.

Qingming in Chinese tea culture

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 are 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.

Qingming 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.
  • Note: (The word: 酒家 can have multiple meaning. 1. Winehouse or restaurant; 2. Hostel, Hotel or Motel. But the most common and most appropriate translation for '酒家' should be 'Inn')

In the Vietnamese epic poem The Tale of Kieu, Qingming is also mentioned as the occasion where 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


  1. SCMP. "SCMP." Ching Ming festival, once branded superstition, is revived as holiday. Retrieved on 2008-04-04.
  2. "" 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. 4.0 4.1 4.2 China's restless dead on Tomb-Sweeping Day, UPI, April 8, 2009
  5. 5.0 5.1 The Qingming Festival, Embassy of PRC in Sweden
  6. Clamp down on Qingming, Straits Times, April 8, 2009

External links

This page uses content from the English Wikipedia. The original article was at Qingming Festival. The list of authors can be seen in the page history.

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