After writing the blog post for Arbor Day, my imagination soared and I was reminded of another traditional festival related to trees and spring — Qingming (“Pure Brightness” in English) Festival. During Qingming, Chinese people will visit the cemetery to pay respects. Qingming Festival usually falls either on the 4th or 5th day in April, or right after Hanshi Festival (which means “cold food”). As you may also remember, out of the 24 solar terms, the second spring solar term is also called Qingming.
Qingming Festival originally commemorates Jie Zitui, a loyal defender of Duke Wen during the Chinese Spring and Autumn Period (approximately 771 to 476 BC). His tragic legend goes as follows: Jie Zitui helped Duke Wen, a prince in exile, regain his kingdom, but refused Duke Wen’s rewards and went into hiding in the mountain with his elderly mother. In the hope of forcing Jie to return to him, Duke Wen ordered his men to set the mountain ablaze. Unfortunately, Jie and his mother never made it out alive, their scorched bodies suggesting that they had been burned alive. Feeling terrible remorse for his deed, Duke Wen offered them a respectful burial and banned the use of fire on that day. Consequently, on Qingming Festival, Chinese people avoid cooking with fire and eat cold food.
Although this last tradition has gradually faded out, tomb sweeping remains an important tradition on that day. On Qingming Festival, Chinese people pay respects to their ancestors, lost friends and loved ones. Qingming Festival thus bears resemblance to All Saints’ Day, or Remembrance Day. However, Qingming Festival is not exactly a “gloomy” holiday since, as it also symbolizes the beginning of a season. Many people also take advantage of Qingming to enjoy the outdoors, catch a sight of spring blossoms and go kite-flying. Nowadays, people even look forward to the festival as the Chinese government has made it a three-day public holiday. Who doesn’t like holidays?