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The Qingming Festival 2019: The Tomb-sweeping Day in China

The Qingming Festival

清明节[qīng míng jié]

The Qingming Festival

The Qingming Festiva in China, also known as Tomb-sweeping day or Green Grass Treading Festival, Willow Leaf Inserting Festival, usually begins around April 5th of the Gregorian calendar. It is not only one of the twenty-four solar terms in the lunar calendar, but also an occasion for Chinese to offer sacrifices to their ancestors. Falling on the sunny and fresh spring, it is a good time for a spring outing. Various sports activities would be held in ancient times on that day.


Dating from the Zhou Dynasty, the Qingming Festival has a history over 2 500 years. The ancient Chinese almanacs recorded the origin of the word Qingming. Qingming means everything is growing in a clean and bright atmosphere and they can feel the fresh sunshine in spring. From the growing period of the crops, the Qingming Festival comes at a time when everything comes back to life, and it is the right time to begin ploughing and sowing. 108 days have passed since the Winter Solstice last year. The Chinese believe that the lucky number 108 represents completeness, peace and eternity, predicting everything bidding farewell to the cold winter and entering a warm spring.

There are two arguments telling the origin of the custom of Qingming on the Tomb-sweeping Festival. One tells that it originated in memorial service of emperors and evolved over a period of years into worshiping ancestors on Qingming Festival. The other tells that Qingming Festival gradually evolved into a day for worshiping ancestors due to the influence of the Cold Food Day, the day before Qingming Festival, which is a time for sacrifice and tomb sweeping.


There are varieties of folk customs on Qingming Festival, such as sweeping tombs to worshiping ancestors, going to the countryside for travel, playing on the swing, playing Cuju, planting trees, flying a kite, inserting willow branches, forbidding fire, etc.

 Sweeping Tombs and Offering Sacrifices

The Qingming Festival is an important day for Chinese to worship and memorize the ancestors. Tomb sweeping, usually called Shangfen, is an activity offering sacrifices to the deceased. Tomb sweeping is not limited to that day, three days before or four days after the Qingming Festival is all acceptable, as it is recorded in the folklore. And this rule of time is made for the convenience of people who are about to worship ancestors. On that day, people bring their kids and the elders, taking fruit, food, drink, joss paper, and spirit objects with them to the graves. People will put offerings in front of the graves, burn joss paper, add new earth to the grave, engrave the fuzzy scripts of the tombstone, cut off branches of willow to insert on the grave and then they will kowtow to worship the ancestors. Spring Outing

Spring Outing, also called Tanchun, is a custom handed down from ancient times till now. People appoint to go for an outing to appreciate the beautiful scenery on the 3rd day of the 3rd lunar month, so Qingming Festival is also called March Festival in ancient times. It is time to see bright sunshine, splendid flowers, and lush trees and grass. After worship, relatives and friends go together to the countryside for climbing, boating, or having a picnic, to enjoy the wonderful spring.

 Playing on the Swing

A swing is a kind of games which refers to the one that two ropes are tied to a fixed frame and both the ends of ropes are closely tied a board at the bottom, people will be able to swing back and forth on the board.

In the northern part of our country in the Spring and Autumn Period, there was a custom of playing on the swing on the Qingming Festival. At that time the ropes were made of leather, and then branches were used as the frame, with ribbons decorating on both sides. As children s favorite activity, playing on the swing can encourage them to be brave and also make them healthy.

Playing Cuju

As a sport activity created by the Chinese, Cuju is recognized universally as the ancestor of modern soccer due to their similarities. And then it prevails in many countries, such as North Korea, Japan, Vietnam, etc.. Cuju is a ball which is made of leather. It is said that the emperors created this game for the purpose of training soldiers’. As one military training item, the game started to popularize in various parts of China in the Spring and Autumn Period. And it was deeply loved by the people from the bottom to the top in the Han Dynasty. In a normal Cuju game, players were divided into two teams, and each team had twelve players, the winner would be decided on the goals kicked by each team.

 Planting Trees

The Qingming Festival is in a period for trees growing and farmers’ spring plowing and seeds sowing. The warm sunshine and continuous spring rain make it the best time to plant trees. Therefore, people have a habit of planting trees on the Qingming Festival.

 Flying Kites

Flying kites is one of the activities people enjoy, and the Chinese were the first to play this game. A kite at the early period was made of wood, therefore, it was called Muyuan (wooden kite). Wood was replaced by bamboo and silk in the Han Dynasty. Later, the paper was used to make a kite. Thus, Muyuan (wooden kite) was renamed Zhiyuan (paper kite).

Elders and children enjoy themselves by flying kites when the Qingming Festival coming. They flew kites not only in the daytime but also at night. In the dim moonlight, people hung small colorful lanterns, named God’s Lantern, on the thread, like the shining stars. After flying the kites up to the sky, people would snip the thread and let the wind take the kite up. It is said that if the kite was sent to the ends of the earth, it would bring good luck, erase evil and cure illness.

 Inserting Willow Branches

Inserting willow branches is performed on the Qingming Festival. Most people usually inserted willow branches into the lintel while people in other places put willow leaves on their heads or put hats knitted by willow branches on children’s heads. One saying is that this custom was established in memory of the common ancestor of the Chinese nation – Shennong. There is another saying that willow leaves inserted into the lintel was for weather forecasting. As the old Chinese proverb says: It will be rainy if the willow branches are green and it will be sunny when you see the branches dried. According to the third saying, inserting willow branches can help people ward off bad luck. The Qingming Festival, one of the three biggest Chinese Ghost Festivals, is a day to offer sacrifice to the deceased. To thwart the harassment of ghosts, willow branches are inserted and worn. The legend of willow originated from Buddhism. The Avalokitesvara, who is familiar to many Chinese people, always carry a bottle with willow branches in the hand. The Avalokitesvara wets the branches with some holy water in the bottle and waves the willow branches to bless everyone on the earth and eliminate illnesses and disasters.

 Shooting Willow

Shooting willow was a game for training archery skills in ancient times. According to historical records, warriors in groups went to the countryside for archery practice. A pigeon was put into a calabash, then the calabash would be hung on the willow branches high. One bent the bow to shoot the calabash and then the pigeon would be free to fly away. The height pigeon flew would determine the outcome.


Cock-fighting, an incredibly popular recreation on the Qingming Festival, lasted from the Qingming Festival to the end of Summer Solstice. Cock-fighting was quite popular in the Tang Dynasty, when emperors, as well as civilians, were all involved in the activity.

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