Qing Ming Jie
"It drizzles endless during the rainy season in spring,
Travelers along the road look gloomy and miserable.
When I ask a shepherd boy where I can find a tavern,
He points at a distant hamlet nestling amidst apricot blossoms."
- Du Mu
To comply with English grammar, Qing Ming Jie should be translated into “Qing Ming Holiday”. But it is an absolute offense to say “Happy Qing Ming” to a Chinese person. In today’s China, every April 4th or 5th is a big day to commemorate ancestors and martyrs who scarified their lives at the service of country and humanity. Literally, “Qing Ming” is one of 24 solar terms on the old Chinese lunar calendar, which reminded ancient Chinese people that a spring was arriving, and it was the prefect timing to have an outing amid fresh breezes, warming sunshine, and fluttering willow leaves.
“Qing Ming” was not a holiday a long time ago, but “Han Shi”, an important and memorable date two days before Qing Ming, was once a big day in Chinese culture, which there was a true story of exile, loyalty, bloodiness, and death behind the “Han Shi”.
A Chinese Tragedy of Qing Ming Jie
During the period of Chun Qiu (BC 770- BC 474), Prince Chong Er failed the fight with his brothers for throne and was exiled for 19 years. He almost starved to death and painfully survived because of a piece of meat cut from a thigh of one of his courtiers named Jie Zi Tui. When Chong Er won the crown and rewarded his courtiers for their loyalty, Jie Zi Tui refused all the titles and treasures. According to reliable historical documents, Jie explained to the new king, “I helped a friend in need, my self-mutilation is not for gaining a leverage to take something from those in power.” Then, he escaped and hid into an unknown mountain, which inevitably irritated his old master and friend. The new king defined Jie’s humbleness and integrity as an unforgivable action of rebellion that threatened a king’s authority and dignity. The king set fire to the mountain where Jie was hiding to force him to leave the mountain. Unfortunately, he burnt his most loyal friend to death. In memory of Jie, ancient Chinese people snuffed the fire and served themselves with cold meals on the day of Jie’s death every year. And this day was called as “Han Shi”, which means “cold meals” in English.
Cultural Significance and Traditions of Qing Ming Jie
Ancient Chinese people would usually commemorate Jie on the date of Qing Ming since Qing Ming is only two days after Han Shi, which has evolved to mourn all the dead who deserved to own an honorable place in the livings’ hearts such as their ancestors. Today, visiting and cleaning dead family members’ graves is the most serious and significant event during the Qing Ming Jie. The night before Qing Ming Jie, people start preparing all the offerings, including long red and white candles, one coppery censer with bunches of incenses, a bunch of yellow and white chrysanthemums representing sincere and endless condolence and missing in Chinese culture, one or two pairs of firecrackers, dozens of fake paper money, and some dishes the dead were fond of when they were alive. The graves are usually placed on the hills because Chinese culture believes that mountains would never rot or disappear. Therefore, ancestors’ legacy and descendants’ love and respect will be fresh and unforgotten forever by burying the deceased on the hills.
On the morning of Qing Ming Jie, people first sweep the tomb upon arrival. Next, they place all the offerings in the front of the tomb and light candles and incenses. Two candles are put down separately on the two sides of flowers and dishes. The last step is vital today: people take bows three times towards the tomb holding three burning incense sticks. With the memories of the dead and the wishes of the living, placing burning incenses at the center of the censer ends the most sorrowful part of Qing Ming Jie. Family members leave with a fierce explosion of firecrackers, sending the heaven a loud massage, “We are here to see you, and we will be here at the same time next year.”
Top Three Chinese Cities to Visit During Qing Ming Jie
Modern Chinese people don’t want to waste any springtime since Qing Ming Jie became a national holiday 10 years ago. During the Qing Ming Jie, traveling is more attractive and popular than ever, to enjoy early springtime during Qing Ming Jie. However, unless surrounded by crazily crowded “mountains of people, oceans of people” on the journey is acceptable, it might not be a good idea to make a trip to Beijing, Shanghai, Hangzhou, or any famous city, in particular if you are a foreign traveler.
Here are some less known but beautiful and peaceful towns to visit on Qing Ming Jie recommended for avoiding cliché tourist bubbles.
#1 Recommendation: old phoenix town in Province Hu Nan
A living microcosm of old China. Streets and towers are randomly linked by stone bridges, small black-awning boats, and silent rivers. When the town is turning green, wandering under the mottled, off-painted walls and touring across well-preserved old architectures transports you to the Chinese past.
#2 Recommendation: Xing Hua in Province Jiang Su.
If you grab a glimpse from the plane, a golden color stretching to the sky spreads across the land of this small village. The huge flower field of golden rape flowers is visual appeal that is incredibly dazzling and gorgeous. The peak bloom of these golden flowers is exactly during Qing Ming Jie. Isn’t it a wonderful trip to have a few natural “gold” gifts among the green at the beginning of the spring?
#3 Recommendation: Wu Town nearby Hang Zhou.
I have to take back my advice, “Don’t go sightseeing in any famous city during any national holidays in China.” Wu Town is a perfect combination of commercialized touristy city and old culture-filled haven. Wu Town will never let you down if you are a fan of old, exotic, and mysterious east-Asian culture and history.