05
Apr
11

A Poem for Qingming

People flock to a public cemetery by the seashore in Shanghai yesterday morning abiding by the tradition to sweep the tombs of their ancestors during the Qingming Festival. [Shanghai daily 2011-04-04 http://www.shanghaidaily.com/gallery/blog.asp?id=87375]

The Qingming Festival usually falls in early April and has become a time for the Chinese people to commemorate and honour their ancestors.

The tradition began in the Zhou Dynasty, and has a history of over 2500 years. Qingming indicates the coming of late spring, the best time for ploughing and growing. The Chinese people now refer to Qingming as “Tomb Sweeping Day” and the festival has integrated with “Cold Food Day”, to become a day when people sweep the ancestors’ tombs and eat cold food.  With the trend towards a more eco-friendly adaptation of the tomb sweeping custom, some of the traditions have evolved to a more modern and techno means of honouring the ancestors; such as public memorial ceremonies, commemoration through the Internet, etc. However, many people will still travel to the cemeteries on the city outskirts to visit and attend to the tombs of their ancestors; pulling out weeds, sweeping away the dirt, and burning incense. School students are also encouraged to pay their respect to national heroes and martyrs.

In Jiangsu and Zhejiang Provinces, the sweet green rice ball is a popular Qingming Festival food. It is also an essential offering at ancestral rituals in the areas south of the Yangtze River. During the Zhou Dynasty, one or two days before the Qingming Festival were designated as “cold food days”, during which hot cooking was banned.

Often the weather is still cold during Qingming, so various sports and games were invented for body-building, e.g. taqing (“stepping-the-green” ==> walking outside into the awakening spring), shuttlecock-kicking, swing, Cuju (Chinese football), polo, willow-planting, tug-of-war, rooster-fighting, and the flying of kites.

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Qingming by Du Mu (A poet from the Tang Dynasty)

清明时节雨纷纷,路上行人欲断魂。

It drizzles endless during the rainy season in spring, travellers along the road look gloomy and miserable.

借问酒家何处有,牧童遥指杏花村。
When I ask a shepherd boy where I can find a tavern, he points at a distant hamlet nestling amidst apricot blossoms.

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