The Origin of Qingming Festival and the Custom of Tomb-Sweeping


The Qingming Festival was initially an important festival and different from Cold Food Festival. Until the Tang Dynasty, the day of worshipping ancestors was designated as Cold Food Festival which was on the 105th day after the winter solstice and close to the Qingming Festival. As these two festivals were very close to each other, ancestral observance was then limited to one single day. It was until the reign of Emperor Xuanzong of Tang, the imperial edict set this practice of commemorating ancestors as one of the Five Rites (Wu Li) and thus Qingming has become a major traditional festival in spring.

Sweeping tombs and paying homage to ancestors is a fine tradition of the Chinese people since ancient times, which is not merely conducive to promoting filial piety and affection, recalling the common memory of families, but also contributing to the cohesion and identity of family members as well as the nation.

Apart from sweeping the tombs, do you know other traditional customs of Qingming? Spring outing (Taqing), going for a spring outing is meant to harmonize ourselves with the season. It is believed that proactively harmonizing with the seasonal changes will benefit one’s health. Cuju, in Du Fu’s poem “Qingming Festival”, it is written that “It has been ten years since I left the city, everything has changed but only the custom of Cuju in Qingming”. This illustrates the popularity of Cuju during the Qingming Festival. Plating willows, the custom of planting willows is related to avoiding epidemics.

The Chinese people believed that wearing a willow branch in the hair during rituals by the river rid them of the poisonous insects. Flying kites, the ancient people regarded flying kites as a way of letting go of one’s bad luck. Swinging, swinging could not only be health enhancing, but also could cultivate the spirit of bravery. During Tang Xuanzong's reign, a large-scale tug-of-war competition was held once during the Qingming Festival, and since then, tug-of-war has become part of the Qingming custom. Cockfighting, cockfighting usually lasted from Qingming to Summer Solstice. During the Tang Dynasty, cockfighting had become a common practice not only for folk but also for emperors. Tree planting, during Qingming, the saplings planted are likely to have a high survival rate, which is why Qingming Festival is also known as Tree-planting Festival.

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