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清明话清明 Qingming Festival

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Qingming Festival; Hanshi Festival; Qingming Jie; Hanshi Jie; Tomb Sweeping Day


The Qingming (Pure Brightness) Festival is one of the 24 seasonal division points in China, falling on April 4-6 each year. The Qingming Festival is a festival of commemoration.
Qingming 清明
The Qingming Festival (清明节) was officially created by the Tang Emperor Xuanzong in 732, but the practice of the custom of Hanshi (寒食), which was combined with the Qingming Festival about 300 years ago, was started during the Zhou Dynasty, and has a history of over 2500 years.

2008 is the first year that the Qingming Festival is an official holiday in mainland China.

History Origin Of Qingming Jie 清明节历史由来

Legend says that the Qingming Festival was originally created to honor a loyal servant, Jie Zitui (介之推), of the Spring and Autumn Period (722 - 481 BC). The Duke Wen of the state of Jin (晋文公) was forced to be on the run from the royal struggle. At one time, his friend and servant, Jie Zitui, cut a piece of meat from his leg to save his hungry Duke's life. When the Duke Wen was restored to his throne almost twenty years later, he rewarded all of his helpers, but forgot Jie Zitui. Later the Duke Wen felt ashamed of that, and ordered to locate Jie. But Jie had hid inside a mountain called Mianshan (绵山) with his mother, and was not willing to get out. Following the suggestion of his advisor, the Duke Wen ordered to set the three sides of the mountain on fire while keep one side open to force Jie out. But Jie was found dead holding a big willow tree trunk with his mother, along with a bloody note in a hole on the trunk:

割肉奉君尽丹心,但愿主公常清明。
柳下作鬼终不见,强似伴君作谏臣。
倘若主公心有我,忆我之时常自省。
臣在九泉心无愧,勤政清明复清明。

The Duke Wen sadly ordered to rename the mountain Mianshan to Mt. Jie (介山) (in Today's Jiexiu County of Shanxi province). To honor Jie, the Duke Wen also ordered that day to be Hanshi (Cold Food) Festival - the day that one can only eat cold food.

A year later, the Duke Wen went back to the mountain to pay respect to Jie. He found the willow tree had come back to life. He quietly picked up some budding willow branches, plaited into a wreath, and put on his head to show his respect. And he ordered that the day after Hanshi Festival was to be the Qingming Festival. Later, the two festivals were combined as one - Qingming Festival (清明).

Qingming Customs Evolution 清明习俗演化

Qing Ming Jie in Ancient Times

In ancient times, people celebrated Qing Ming Jie with dancing, singing, picnics, and kite flying. Colored boiled eggs would be broken to symbolize the opening of life. In the capital, the Emperor would plant trees on the palace grounds to celebrate the renewing nature of spring. In the villages, young men and women would court each other.

The Tomb Sweeping Day as Celebrated Today

With the passing of time, this celebration of life became a day to the honor past ancestors. Following folk religion, the Chinese believed that the spirits of deceased ancestors looked after the family. Sacrifices of food and spirit money could keep them happy, and the family would prosper through good harvests and more children.

Today, Chinese visit their family graves to tend to any underbrush that has grown. Weeds are pulled, and dirt swept away, and the family will set out offerings of food and spirit money. Unlike the sacrifices at a family's home altar, the offerings at the tomb usually consist of dry, bland food. One theory is that since any number of ghosts rome around a grave area, the less appealing food will be consumed by the ancestors, and not be plundered by strangers.

Honoring Ancestors

Honoring ancestors begins with proper positioning of a gravesite and coffin. Experts in feng shui, or geomancy, determine the quality of land by the surrounding aspects of streams, rivers, trees, hills, and so forth. An area that faces south, with groves of pine trees creates the best flow of cosmic energy required to keep ancestors happy. Unfortunately, nowadays, with China's burgeoning population, public cemetaries have quickly surplanted private gravesites. Family elders will visit the gravesite at least once a year to tend to the tombs.

While bland food is placed by the tombs on Qing Ming Jie, the Chinese regularly provide scrumptious offerings to their ancestors at altar tables in their homes. The food usually consists of chicken, eggs, or other dishes a deceased ancestor was fond of. Accompanied by rice, the dishes and eating utensils are carefully arranged so as to bring good luck. Sometimes, a family will put burning incense with the offering so as to expedite the transfer of nutritious elements to the ancestors. In some parts of China, the food is then eaten by the entire family.

Kites

Besides the traditions of honoring the dead, people also often fly kits on Tomb Sweeping Day. Kites can come in all kinds of shapes, sizes, and colors. Designs could include frogs, dragonflies, butterflies, crabs, bats, and storks.


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