Qingming Festival a.k.a. Tomb-Sweeping Festival is an important Chinese holiday that is often not mentioned. Qingming is a time for Chinese people to remember and commemorate their ancestors and families. This festival not only encourages us to be with our loved ones (dead or living), but it also allows us to understand Chinese culture in depth, especially with a Chinese virtue called "Filial Piety, 孝."
The Youtube video HERE tells the Qingming story well with added humor. If you would like to challenge yourself on your Chinese listening skills, do not continue with the post, go ahead and watch the video first!
Here's the English summary of the story. Liu Bang and Xiang Yu (a warlord) fought in wars that lasted years. Eventually, Liu Bang defeated Xiang Yu and became the first emperor of the Han dynasty. Liu Bang then returned to his hometown and visited his parents' grave. Due to many battles that were fought during that time, his parents' grave was among the mass grave in the area, and Liu Bang struggled to find his parents' tombstone. He and his army looked and looked for days, and there were still no signs. Liu Bang got frustrated and upset, he tore apart the piece of paper that he had in his hand and prayed to the sky hoping his parents could hear his wish and help him find the graves. Miraculously, the broken pieces that flew into the wild, one stuck onto a tombstone. He ran over and speculated the tombstone carefully, and finally, he had found the tombstone and the grave! He ordered his staff immediately to fix and tend to the tombstone. Ever since then, on Qingming Day, Liu Bang was able to easily visit his parents' grave. People found out Liu Bang, the emperor was commemorating his parents yearly to show his "filial piety," they then carried on this tradition to remember their families and ancestors.
When is it?
Aside from the Chinese lunar calendar (calendar based on the cycle of the moon), the 24 solar terms of the traditional Chinese calendar was also crucial. The 24 solar terms were created by Chinese farmers to guide them through their farming activities. Each term reflects different astrological events and changes in climate. The most commonly known four solar terms are Spring Equinox, Summer Solstice, Autumn Equinox, and Winter Solstice. Qingming is one of the 24 solar terms and follows directly behind Spring Equinox. It usually falls on April 4th, 5th, or 6th on our regular calendar. This year (2019), it is on April 5th.
What is Filial Piety 孝 (xiào)?
This word is not known by many English speakers as it is a unique Chinese concept. I was raised in a Chinese household, the idea of "xiào" was instilled in me through my upbringing. I was told to show respect to my parents, elders, and ancestors through actions - which means spending more time with my family, giving them money when I start earning, taking care of them when they get old. All these are the responsibilities of a daughter/son to show "xiào" towards our family. It is likely that people would judge you based on how "xiàoshùn" (adjective form of "xiào") you are towards your elders, and many times, you would have this guilt if you do not fulfill "xiào." Younger generations feel "obligated" to take care of parents and grandparents, with emphasis on obligated. In Chinese culture, this is the way to show how much you love your family.
Most of my adult lives are spent in the States, and I hold the concept of "xiào" to some extent. Showing love and respect does not mean obligation and guilt need to come in play. Based on my experience seeing my grandfather who has Alzheimer's for years now, this process started at home when my aunt was to look after him. She was more than happy to handle this task as she was really close to him. As time went on, my grandfather showed struggles with his everyday life routines. Knowing this is beyond the abilities of several family members, we (my mom and my aunt) have decided to send him to a nursing home (an hour away) who specialized in dealing with Alzheimer's patients. At this point, what do you think the neighbors started murmuring about? That's right! They think my aunt and my mom are not "xiàoshùn" because they sent my grandfather away! Never mind the fact that my grandfather is in a much better environment with professionally trained staff. The staff design group activities and encourage their patients to do as much as they can to help out. As a result, my grandfather is now more active and is able to interact with other patients.
Many Chinese families still hold this "xiào" concept close to their hearts. "Xiào" is not just about obligation and fulfilling duty in a family, more importantly, we can never forget that love is also conveyed through words, speech, and expressions.
What do people do?
Tomb-Sweeping: 1. Family clean up any weeds or trash on the grave, then pay respect to their ancestors by offering food and/or alcohol in front of the tombstone for their ancestors to "enjoy." 2. People use a rock to hold rectangular shaped papers (yellow and white or red, yellow, blue, white and black papers) in place on top of the tombstone. This signifies that the families have already visited.
Kite Flying: Like sky lanterns, you write messages on the kite, except, the words and phrases on the kites are unlucky. As you fly the kite, you cut off the string and let it go free. This action is to eliminate any bad lucks you have and hope to bring you good luck for your future.
Short Vacation Time: People usually have 4-5 days over a weekend to travel and visit family graves. Many families also take this opportunity to go on a mini-vacation.
What literature work is related to Qingming?
A Tang Poem that is written about Qingming Festival 《清明》by 杜牧 「清明時節雨紛紛， 路上行人欲斷魂。 借問酒家何處有？ 牧童遙指杏花村。」
Qīngmíng by Dùmù The rain continues to fall during Qingming day, The weather like this make travelers feel down/depressed, Asking where one can find a restaurant? The shepherd points far away to a village towards Xìnghuācūn.