The concept of filial piety or obedience to one’s elderly or ancestors is a very important concept in the Chinese culture. Traditionally, the Chinese believed that the spirits of deceased ancestors will look after the family even when they are gone. Hence. offering of food and spirit money could keep them happy in the spiritual world, and in turn, the living family will continue to prosper through good harvests and more children from the ancestor’s blessing.
Ancestors Day or Tomb Sweeping Day is a traditional Chinese festival which occurs on the Spring Equinox. Qingming falls on the first day of the fifth solar term. This day is when the Sun is exactly at the celestial longitude of 15°. Its name denotes a time for people to go outside and enjoy the greenery of springtime ( Tàqīng, "treading on the greenery") and tend to the graves of departed ones.
Qing Ming Jie Festival originated from Hanshi Day ( Day with cold food only), a memorial day for Jie Zitui who died in 636 BC in the Spring and Autumn Period. He was one of many followers of Duke Wen of Jin before he became a Duke. One time, during Wen’s 19 years of exile, they didn’t have any food and Jie prepared some meat soup for Wen. Wen enjoyed it a lot and wondered where Jie got the soup. It turned out Jie had cut a piece of meat from his own thigh to make the soup. Wen was so moved he promised to reward him one day. However, Jie was not the type of person who sought rewards. Instead, he just wanted to help Wen to return to Jin to become Duke. Once Wen became Duke, Jie resigned and stayed away from the Duke. Duke Wen rewarded the people who helped him in the decades, but for some reason he forgot to reward Jie, who by then had moved into the forest with his mother. Duke Wen went to the forest, but couldn’t find Jie. Heeding suggestions from his officials, Duke Wen ordered men to set the forest on fire to force out Jie, however, Jie died in the fire. Feeling remorseful, Duke Wen ordered three days without fire to honour Jie’s memory. The county where Jie died is still called Jiexiu. [ Meaning the place Jie rests forever].
Wealthy citizens in China were reportedly holding too many extravagant and ostentatiously expensive ceremonies in honour of their ancestors. Emperor Emperor Ming of Tang 685 – 762, seeking to curb this practice, declared that respects could be formally paid at ancestors’ graves only on Qingming. The observance of Qingming found a firm place in Chinese culture and continued uninterrupted for over two millennia. The Festival became an opportunity for celebrants to remember and honour their ancestors at grave sites. Young and old pray before the ancestors, they sweep the tombs and offer food, tea, wine, chopsticks, joss paper accessories, to the ancestors. The rites have a long tradition in Asia, especially among farmers. Some people carry willow branches with them on Qingming, or put willow branches on their gates and/or front doors. They believe that willow branches help ward off the evil spirit that wanders on Qingming. Also on Qingming people go on family outings, start the spring ploughing, sing, and dance. Traditionally it is a time where young couples start courting. Another popular thing to do is fly kites which can come in all kinds of shapes, sizes, and colours. Designs could include frogs, dragonflies, butterflies, crabs, bats, and characters from Chinese opera. Others carry flowers instead of burning paper, incense or firecrackers.
The annual festival was forbidden from 1949. In 1981 ‘tree planting day’ was initiated. "Every able-bodied citizen between the ages of 11 and 60 should plant three to five trees per year or do the equivalent amount of work in seedling, cultivation, tree tending or other services." This ‘voluntary’environmental task now takes place in March. In 2008 the ruling Communist Party reinstated Qinming into the holiday calendar. The festival is often marked by people paying respects to those who died in events considered sensitive in the country. The April 5th Movement and the Tiananmen Square Incident are two major events in recent history remembered on Qinming.
When Premier Zhou Enlai died in 1976, thousands visited him during the festival to pay their respects. Today the graves of Zhao Ziyang and Lin Zhao are visited with equal reverence. Once again,officially, Qingming continues to be observed in the traditional manner, with families gathering to honour their own ancestors, visit and maintain their family shrines, and share traditional meals.
burning paper gifts for the departed