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The History of Qingming Festival

2016-03-21 14:06:48Share:

The History of Qingming Festival

  Qingming means clear and bright in Chinese. It is the day for mourning the dead. It falls in the start of April every year, corresponds with the onset of warmer weather, the start of spring plowing, and family outings.


  Before we talk about Qingming Festival, we must say something about another ancient event, Hanshi, which always comes one day before the Qingming Festival. Hanshi literally means cold food. It’s said that in the seventh century BC during the Spring and Autumn Period (770-476BC), Duke Xiao was the monarch of the state of Jin. His eldest son, Shen Sheng should have inherited the throne on the death of his father. But Duke Xiao had other plans. He wanted the son of his favorite concubine, Li Ji,to succeed him as the ruler of Jin. Not exactly a loving father, Duke Xiao had Shen Sheng murdered and would have done the same to his second eldest son, Chong'er, but Chong'er got wind of this and fled.


  For 19 years, Chong'er and his entourage of loyal officials and servants wandered homeless. One day, Chong'er was actually starving and close to death. One of his most faithful followers, Jie Zitui, cut a slice of muscle from his own leg and served it to his master, thereby saving his life. Finally in 636 BC, Chong'er managed to take the throne that was tightfully his and took the official title of Duke Wen of the Jin state.


The History of Qingming Festival


  After becoming the ruler of the state, Chong'er decided to reward the officials who had stayed with him through his years of wandering. But he forgot about Jie Zitui who had sacrificed the flesh of his leg. Jie Zitui was heartbroken and went away. Later Chong'er remembered Jie Zitui's sacrifice and sent people to look for him. Eventually they found him. Chong'er went in person to apologize and ask him to return to the royal court. But Jie Zitui left them and went deep into the mountains, so no one could find him again. Someone advised Chong'er to set fire to the mountain in order to force Jie Zitui into the open, where he could be talked into returning to the comforts of life in the royal house. Chong'er took this advice and set fire to the mountain where Jie Zitui was believed to be hiding. The fires raged for three days and Jie Zitui was found leaning against a large tree, carrying his old mother on his back. Both Jie Zitui and his mother were dead.


  Chong'er was deeply saddened by this tragedy. He ordered that a temple be built in memory of his most loyal follower. He also ordered that no fires were allowed on the anniversary of Jie Zitui's death. So people had to eat cold food on that day-the day of Hanshi. In addition, people began to visit Jie Zitui's tomb and pay their respects to his memory.


  It was not until the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) about 300 years ago that the practice of Hanshi or eating cold food was replaced by the Qingming Festival (the Tomb-sweeping Day), which had now become an important occasion for people to offer sacrifices to their ancestors.


  In ancient China, Qingming was by no means the only time when sacrifices were made to ancestors. In fact such ceremonies were held very frequently, about once every two weeks, in addition to other important holidaysand festivals. The formalities of these ceremonies were in general very elaborate and expensive in terms of time and money.


  In an effort to reduce this expense, Emperor Xuanzong of the Tang Dynasty (618-907) declared in 732 AD that respects would be fomally paid at the tombs of ancestors only on the day of Qingming.This is the custom that continues to date. People will visit their ancestors' graves. They will tidy up, remove weeds and sweep away leaves. This is why Qingming is also known as the Tomb Sweeping Day. Beijing's subway is particularly crowded around the Qingming Festival as people flock to Babaoshan, Beijing's most famous cemetery and crematorium, to pay respects to their departed loved ones.

The Imperial Gardens