Qing Ming – 

A Time Honored Tradition

Qing ming shi jie yu fen fen
(A drizzling rain falls like tears on this Mourning Day)
Lu shang xing ren yu duan hun
(The mourner’s heart is going to break along his way)
Jie wen jiu jia he chu you
(Where can a wineshop be found to drown these sad hours?)
Mu tong yao zhi xing hua cun
(A cowherd, points towards the Xing Hua (Apricot) Village) 清明 杜牧 清明時節雨紛紛, 路上行人欲斷魂。 借問酒家何處有, 牧童遙指杏花村

Du Mu (803-c.852) A renowned Tang dynasty poet

This ancient Chinese poem that dates back to the Tang dynasty (618-907) is about a traveler who found himself alone on a country road during the Qing Ming Festival. It was raining non-stop, a welcomed sign of spring after a hard and long winter, but this did nothing to lighten his spirits. He was sadly remembering members of his family, friends and those that had died.

Drenched, tired and not in a festive mood to celebrate the arrival of spring, he decides to find the nearest wine shop so that he can seek refuge and forget his loneliness for a little while. He stops to ask for directions from a cowherd or shepherd boy. The lad points him in the direction of Xing Hua Village (Apricot Flower Village). To this day, because of the prominence of this poem, Xing Hua Village has become ‘a place of shelter from a harsh world’.

Along the River During the Qingming Festival by Zhang Zeduan
A small section of the Song dynasty painting “Along the River During the Qingming Festival” by Zhang Zeduan, 1085-1145

The Qing Ming Festival

The Qing Ming festival’s origin is credited to Tang dynasty Emperor Xuanzong, (713-756 CE). The name “Qing Ming” literally means “clear brightness”, a time when spring has arrived and there is a feeling of new growth and rejuvenation among people.
Qing Ming also refers to a solar term on the Chinese lunar calendar. This stems from the close relationship the ancestors had with the earth and the changing seasons. It continues to be observed on the first day of the fifth solar month usually around April 4th or 5th, which is considered a perfect time to prepare the earth for planting. This year, Qing Ming falls on April 5th.

Tomb Sweeping Day

Emperor Xuanzong was dedicated to the practice of honoring one’s ancestors. He declared that respects were to be formally made only on Qing Ming. Relatives were expected to revisit the graves of their ancestors to make sure that they were clean and in proper order. Now, 2,500 years later, the practice of “tomb sweeping” continues. Here in Taiwan Tomb Sweeping Day is a national holiday and time for families to go to the gravesites of their relatives to pay their respects. If the gravesite is located outdoors and overgrown with weeds, they are removed. The headstone is cleaned and offerings of flowers, traditional foods, rice wine and tea are carefully placed in front of the graves. Then, the family will gather to begin the lighting of incense and joss sticks. Special money called “ghost money” or joss paper is burned as an offering to their family members for things that they may want or need in the afterlife. Each family member will say a short prayer honoring the memory of their family member. Once finished, the family will sit and enjoy a picnic lunch together. 

 Traditional Qing Ming Food

In Taiwan, sweetened green rice balls made of glutinous rice, fried dough, spring rolls, spring onion omelet, steamed rice with mustard leaves, sweet steamed buns and rice dumplings with blends of wormwood paste and glutinous rice powder are some of the traditional choices. All are delicious symbolic offerings to those family members that have passed away and to those who will sit together as a family to enjoy them.

Pai Su-yu is a well-known writer and educator, whose interest in different cultures has led to some amazing life adventures.

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