The Qingming Festival: History, Origin & Customs Explained

Qingming Festival (清明节) is one of the most important traditional Chinese festivals, also known as the Tomb-Sweeping Day. “Qingming” literally means “clear and bright” in Chinese, which is a very suitable name, given its history and meaning.

History & Origin

This holiday has a history of more than 2,500 years and is celebrated ever since the Zhou Dynasty (510-314 BC).

The ancients believed that fifteen days after the spring equinox, a “Qingming” breeze comes from the southwest. It clears out the cold winter air allowing temperatures to rise and rainfall to increase. Everything will start to grow from plants and flowers to cultivated crops including tea.

Qingming Festival Date

The Qingming festival takes place at the 5th solar term (out of the 24 solar terms). On the Western calendar, the festival takes place on April the 4th, 5th or 6th.

Customs Tomb Sweeping, Sacrifices & Lucky Money

To the Chinese people, the Qingming Festival has a far greater significance than just a solar term. Influenced by the Han culture, 24 ethnic groups in China such as the Manchu, Zhuang, Dong, Tujia, Miao, Yao, and Li also celebrate Qingming Festival.

tomb sweeping aerialAlthough local customs are not exactly the same, tomb-sweeping, offering sacrifices to ancestors, and outings are the basic themes.

In Zhejiang Province area, people place new offerings such as snails, sweet green cakes, rice cakes and other dishes in front of ancestors tombs. Other offerings may include flowers.

At the end of the ceremony, the children who are watching the ceremony will receive “lucky money”.

In Hainan, After sweeping ancestors’ tombs, people will place dishes of pork, fish and geese, as well as various pastries in front of the graves. Then there are rituals like burning incense and paper money, hoping the ancestors rest in peace and bless the offspring.

qingming festival qingtuan

Qingming Festival is not just about tomb-sweeping and sadness. With the pleasantly warm weather, people get out of the door for Spring outings too. In addition to enjoy the Spring scenery, people carry out various recreational activities such as kite flying and tug of war. There are also special dishes that Chinese people love to make during this holiday. This includes green glutinous rice dumplings (qingtuan) and fried rice with veggies (芥菜饭).

qingming festival activities

Mingqian Tea

Many southern regions still retain the customs of Qingming tea-offering for ancestors. During the tomb-sweeping ceremony, tea is poured into tea cups and sprinkled in front of the graves of the deceased relatives to show respect and remembrance.

early spring tea buds qingming

The term “Qingming tea” refers to early spring tea. Spring tea is generally not harmed by the pests. The tea buds are tender and soft and pesticides-free.

There is another term called “Mingqian tea”, which refers tea picked before the Qingming Festival. It’s the very first batch tea picked in the whole year. Since the temperature is generally low the rainfall is deficient before Qingming Festival, the growth of the tea tree is limited. Therefore, the tea buds that meet the picking standards are scarce.

Mingqian tea is rare and expensive but many people love to try because of its fresh aroma. There is a saying that goes: “Mingqian tea is as expensive as gold.”


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