Qingming, One of the 24 Solar Terms 二十四节气之清明

Qingming is one of the 24 solar terms of China. Since the 24 solar terms objectively reflect the variations in temperature, rainfall and phenology of a year, the working people in ancient times arranged their farming activities in accordance with them. It says in Huai Nan Zi • Astronomy that after fifteen days from chunfen (vernal equinox) when the Big Dipper points to yi (a heavenly stem in the east), clear and bright breezes will arise. In Sui Shi Bai Wen (One Hundred Questions about Seasons), it says that all living things growing at this moment appear clear and bright, so it is called Qingming (literally “clear and bright”). Upon the arrival of Qingming, the temperature rises and the rainfall increases, and it is the best time for spring ploughing and sowing. Therefore, there are sayings as “sow crops around Qingming” and “trees shall be planted no later than Qingming”. It can be seen from these sayings that this solar term is closely connected to agricultural production activities.
However, as a festival, Qingming is different with other solar terms. Festivals always involve customs and rites of commemoration, while solar terms signify phenological changes and the order of seasons in China.
Qingming Festival is one of China’s traditional festivals and also the most important worship festival for offering sacrifices to ancestors and sweeping tombs. Tomb sweeping, commonly called Shangfen (literally “tend to graves”), is an activity for paying respect to the deceased. The Han nationality and some minority nationalities sweep tombs on Qingming Festival.
Pursuant to ancient customs, when sweeping a tomb, celebrants should bring food, fruit, wine, spirit money, etc. to the tomb site, and place the food, fruit and wine before the tomb, and burn spirit money. They should build up the tomb with new soil, break off a couple of twigs and stick them into the soil on the tomb, kneel down, kowtou, bow, pray, have the food, fruit and wine, and go home. Du Mu, a poet in Tang Dynasty, wrote a poem titled Qingming which portrays the special atmosphere on Qingming Festival — “A drizzling rain falls like tears on the Mourning Day; the mourner’s heart is breaking on his way. wher can a wine house be found to drown his sadness? A cowherd points to Xinghua (Almond Flower) Village in the distance.”
Qingming Festival, also called Taqing (literally “treading on the greenery”) Festival, falls on April 4, 5 or 6 of the solar calendar, a time when plants turn green in bright and warm sunshine and a time for people to go outside and enjoy the greenery of springtime (it was called taqing in ancient times). Therefore, ancient Chinese people had customs related to taqing and doing sports.
Customs of offering sacrifices to ancestors and commemorating deceased relatives are still popular today.

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