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Qingming Festival

Qingming Festival, aka the Tomb Sweeping Festival, is one of the four most important traditional Chinese festivals (the other three being the Spring Festival, Dragon-boat Festival, and the Mid-Autumn Festival). It's usually within April 4-6 when the weather becomes warm, and things are awake from a long winter. Originally, Qingming was a solar term for ancient Chinese farmers begins their farming. In the Zhou Dynasty, it was combined with the Hanshi Festival and became a festival.

Origin of Qingming Festival

In the Spring and Autumn Period and the Warring States Period, to make sure her own son Xi Qi to ascend the throne of the Jin State, Li Ji, the concubine of Duke Xian of Jin State, forced the prince Shen Sheng to commit suicide and exiled Shen Sheng's brother Chong Er. During the exile, Chong Er suffered a lot, including being betrayed by some of his own subordinates, and only a few people remained loyal to him, one of them was Jiezi Tui. One time, Chong Er was almost starving to death when Jiezi Tui roasted a piece of meat from his leg and offered it to Chong Er. Nineteen years later, Chong Er finally got back to Jin State again, ascended the throne, and became Duke Wen of Jin State. After he came to power, Duke Wen of Jin rewarded the ministers who had been loyal to him all along but only forgot the Jiezi Tui. Someone exclaimed for Jiezi Tui, and the Duke Wen of Jin recalled the old memories and felt ashamed. He immediately sent people to search Jiezi Tui, but Jiezi Tui refused all the invitations. Duke Wen of Jin had no choice but to pay a visit to Jiezi Tui himself. To avoid meeting Duke Wen, Jiezi Tui carried his mother and hid into the Mianshan Mountain (today's Jiexiu County of Shanxi). The royal guards searched for a long time, but there was no luck. Someone suggested that if a fire is set on the mountain, Jiezi Tui would have no way to come out. As a result, Jiezi Tui and his mother were burnt to death. There was only a piece of cloth with a poem written by blood left by Jiezi Tui, exhorting Duke Wen of Jin to rule wisely and be kind to his people. Duke Wen of Jin ordered the deceased Jiezi Tui and his mother to be buried under a burnt willow tree and changed the Mianshan Mountain into Jieshan Mountain. He also set the day of burning Jiezi Tui to be the Hanshi Festival to commemorate Jiezi Tui. On this day, people could only have cold food. A year after the death of Jiezi Tui, Duke Wen of Jin led the ministers to pay condolences to Jiezi Tui and saw the willow tree survived. He was very surprised and named the willow tree Qingming Willow and set the day as Qingming Festival.

Traditional Customs

1. Tomb Sweeping

The most common custom of the Qingming Festival is the tomb-sweeping. People will offer sacrifice and burn hell money to the dead. The Chinese leaders also pay visits to the public cemeteries and offer wreaths to those who sacrificed for the country. Every year, there were fires caused by burning the hell money. Therefore, the Chinese government advocated the custom of offering flowers instead of burning hell money. In the Qingming Festival in 2020, the coronavirus made it hard for people to sweep the tomb. Online tomb-sweeping became popular. The Chinese government also ordered the national flag to be lowered and called in everyone to observe silence for the people who died of the virus.

2. Spring Outing

Qingming Festival is also an excellent occasion for a spring outing. Spring is often half-past when the weather is warm, and the flowers are beginning to bloom. In ancient times, people often wore new shoes and went for a walk after the tomb-sweeping. In modern times, the Qingming Festival is a three-day holiday when people can have a short trip to nearby cities.

3.Willow Branch Planting

Willow Branch Planting came from the story of Jiezi Tui and Duke Wen of Jin. Besides, the willow branches have a strong vitality, and it’s said that the willow branch can also exorcise evil spirits. In the Song Dynasty, people often place the willow branches on lintels. Some people even make a wreath with willow branches.


Swinging is a physical game at Qingming Festival. It came from northern ethnics and was brought into China in the Spring and Autumn Period. It gained popularity among folks for simple equipment and easiness to learn. In the Han dynasty, swinging gradually became a game on holidays like Qingming Festival and Dragon-boat Festival, and was extremely popular among girls.

5. Kites Flying

Flying kites is both a game and a folk event at Qingming Festival. This custom originated in the Qing Dynasty when people often brought kites to the tombs and fly them after the tomb-sweeping. People wrote all kinds of disasters or diseases on the kites and then flew them high on the sky, and then cut them loose. It's believed the unlucky things wrote on the kites would go away with the kites.

6.Tug-of-war Competition

Tug-of-war competition was a custom, especially for men. It originated in the Spring and Autumn Period and became popular in Sui and Tang Dynasties. This competition used to be a training skill in Chu State in the Spring and Autumn Period. Later, it became a game that people used to pray for a good harvest. During the competition, the drums were played, audiences sung, and the men shout their slogans; all these together were very much like a praying ritual.

The Food at Qingming Festival

1.  Green Rice Ball

In Ming and Qing Dynasties, Green Rice Ball is a special food for Qingming Festival. It's made of glutinous rice and a kind of potherb called Jiangmai grass.

2. Pancakes

Pancake is a Qingming food for people in south Fujian regions; people like to have pancakes filled with sea sedge, boiled egg slices, and chilli sausage after the tomb-sweeping.

3. Green Onions and Egg Cakes

At the Qingming Festival, Qingdao people often eat green onions and egg cakes, which means cleverness.

4. Qingming Rice

In old times, Chinese people often collected all kinds of herbs and mixed them into the rice, making the Qingming Rice.

5.Joy Ball

Chengdu people like to make Joy Balls at the Qingming Festival, a kind of food made of fried rice and strung with thread.

6.Date Cake

Date Cake, also called Zitui Cake, is a traditional Qingming food in northern China. It’s made of fermented flour dough and filled with dates. Some people often shape the cakes as a flying swallow, string them with willow branches, and hang them on the door.


It's well-known that Zongzi is for the dragon-boat festival. This food is also popular during the Qingming Festival in Changxing, Wujiang, and Tangqi areas.

Who Celebrate Qingming Festival?

It’s natural to assume that the Qingming Festival is exclusive to Chinese people. Besides China, Vietnam, Malaysia, Singapore, and South Korea also celebrate the Qingming Festival. Vietnam is one of the few countries in the world that also use the Chinese lunar calendar. Their Qingming Festival was introduced from China. While the Qingming Festivals in South Korea, Singapore, and Malaysia were also brought by overseas Chinese.