(Minghui.org) Qingming (meaning “clear and bright”) is one of the 24 solar terms in the lunar calendar. When Qingming arrives, rainfall increases and temperatures start to rise, a good time for plowing and planting. Therefore, there are sayings in farming such as “Around Qingming, plant melons and beans” and “Qingming is the prime time for reforestation.”

It says in the Almanac, “Fifteen days after the Spring Equinox, when the Dipper points to Yi, is Qingming. At this time, everything is clean and bright, the air is clear, and everything is visible, hence the name.”

“Qingming” falls between April 4 and 6 every year in the Gregorian calendar. For example, in 1943 it fell on April 6, in 2023 on April 5, and in 2024 on April 4.

Since the Cold Food Festival, a traditional festival for worshiping ancestors and sweeping the graves, was around the same time as Qingming, the two festivals were merged into one, creating the current Qingming Festival.

The Qingming Festival, with a history of more than 2,500 years, has two meanings. One is a solar term that marks a change of seasons, and the other refers to a traditional festival that focuses on filial piety.

Origin and Legend of the Cold Food Festival

The Cold Food Festival came into being before the Qingming Festival. It says in The Rites of Zhou - Xia Guan Sima: “Start a new fire in spring.” There have been different stories about the origin of the Cold Food Festival. One says that it originated from the ancient way of drilling wood to make fire. In ancient times, the type of wood people used to make fire differed according to the season, and before a new fire was made, people were prohibited from lighting a fire.

Fire was prohibited during the Cold Food Festival, and the “new fire” was lit when the Qingming Festival arrived. It symbolizes bidding farewell to the old and welcoming the new with new hope, new life, and the beginning of a new cycle.

Later, the Cold Food Festival started to focus on “gratitude” and emphasized remembering and expressing gratitude for one’s ancestors, in particular to commemorate Jie Zitui, a loyal minister in the Jin State in the Spring and Autumn Period.

Legend has it that during the Spring and Autumn (770-476 BC) and Warring States (475-221 BC) periods, Li Ji, the concubine of Duke Xian of Jin, forced Prince Shen Sheng to commit suicide so that her own son Xi Qi could succeed to the throne.

Shen Sheng’s younger brother Chong’er was forced to go into exile to avoid harm. During his exile, Chong’er suffered all kinds of humiliation and hardship, and most of the ministers who originally followed him went their separate ways. One of the few loyal followers who stayed to take care of him was Jie Zitui.

Once, Chong’er was so hungry that he could no longer walk. Jie Zitui cut off a piece of flesh from his own leg and made a soup to assuage the prince’s hunger. Nineteen years later when Chong’er returned to his state and ascended the throne as Duke Wen of Jin, he rewarded the ministers who followed him in exile, but he forgot about Jie Zitui, who had returned home to care for his mother.

After others reminded him, Duke Wen of Jin felt really bad about it. He sent envoys several times to invite Jie Zitui to come to court and be rewarded, but to no avail. So he went to his home in person, only to find the door locked. In fact, Jie Zitui did not want to take credit for what he did and had gone to hide on Mount Mian (today's Jiexiu County, Shanxi Province) with his mother.

When the imperial guards failed to find him on the mountain, someone suggested setting fire to the mountain to force Jie Zitui out. After the fire burned for three days and three nights, Jie Zitui was still nowhere to be seen. When Duke Wen went up the mountain, he saw Jie Zitui and his mother, embracing a large willow tree, both burned to death. In a hole of the willow tree, there was a piece of clothing with a poem written in blood:

I cut my flesh to serve my lord with all my heart,and hope my lord will always be clear-minded.It is better (for me) to be a ghost under the willow tree,than to accompany my lord as an admonition minister.If my lord has me in your heart,remember me and always reflect upon yourself.I have a clear conscience in the netherworld,and (my lord) keeps clean governance year by year.

Greatly saddened, Duke Wen of Jin kept the poem and gave orders that Jie Zitui and his mother be buried under the willow tree with honor. He also ordered the name of Mount Mian be changed to Mount Jie and that the day of Jie Zitui’s death be designated as the Cold Food Festival. People were not allowed to make a fire to cook on the day every year in memory of Jie Zitui.

Duke Wen of Jin Recovering His Status by Li Tang (public domain)

Origin and Customs of the Qingming Festival

It is said that the Qingming Festival began with people in ancient times offering sacrifices at the graves of emperors and court ministers. Later, people also started worshiping their ancestors and sweeping their tombs on that day, and the tradition has been passed down throughout generations and become an observed custom in China. Around this time, the scenery is beautiful and bright, a good time for spring outings. So, the Qingming Festival is also known as the Outing Festival, Xingqing Festival, March Festival, and Ancestor Worshiping Festival.

There was another story about the Qingming Festival in relation to Jie Zitui. As it goes, Duke Wen of Jin went to Mount Mian to offer sacrifices to Jie Zitui, and he saw new shoots sprouting out of the charred willow tree, so he named the resurrected willow tree “Qingming Willow” and the day after the Cold Food Festival as the “Qingming Festival.”

The duke also broke off a few willow branches, shaped them into a circle, and wore it on his head, as if Jie Zitui was still with him. Later, people in the Jin State also wore willow branch crowns and planted willow trees in memory of Jie Zitui, a custom later generations have followed.

All fires were extinguished on the Cold Food Festival to honor and commemorate one’s ancestors. The next day, on the Qingming Festival, the emperor would lead his generals and court officials to a grand fire-giving ceremony, at which wood was drilled to make a new fire, signaling prosperity for the country by getting rid of the old and welcoming the new.

The two festivals were later merged into one because they were so close together. So, the Qingming Festival is both a festival to sweep graves and honor ancestors and one for spring outings to enjoy the beauty of Mother Nature.

In addition to tomb-sweeping, people also enjoyed planting trees, going on outings, wearing willow crowns, swinging on swings, playing Cuju (the ancient form of soccer), flying kites, and eating all kinds of cakes and snacks.


During the Qingming Festival, descendants would clean up the weeds on their ancestors’ graves and offer sacrifices, including wine, flowers, fruit, and rice cakes. Altogether, this is known as tomb-sweeping.

After clearing the weeds, a stack of three tomb papers would be pressed onto the tombstone with stones or bricks, which is known as hanging paper or pressing paper. It indicates that the descendants have paid homage to the ancestral tomb and have repaired the house (grave) for their ancestors—it is not a lone tomb with no one to worship it. Legend has it that the hanging paper can lay the souls of one’s ancestors to rest and bring the family good luck.

There is a custom of distributing rice cakes to poor kids nearby after the tomb-sweeping ceremony to indicate that the ancestral virtues will last for generations.

Before returning home, people crack hard-boiled eggs on the tombstone, peel them, and throw the egg shells on the ancestral graves, symbolizing the endless cycle of yin and yang by returning to the starting point, where bad luck is gotten rid of and good luck and new life start.

The Qingming period is a good time to plant trees, so some people call the Qingming Festival “Arbor Day”(Painting by Huang Yue in the Qing Dynasty; National Palace Museum, Taipei)

Planting Trees

Around the Qingming Festival, the weather is very good for the growth of trees, so some people also call the Qingming Festival “Arbor Day.” They combine tomb sweeping and ancestor worship with tree planting, which has become one of the Qingming customs to this day.

Planting trees is said to be related to ancient ancestor worship, funeral customs, and the blessing of future generations. Rulers during the Western Zhou period (1046 BC– 771 BC) had trees planted on their graves to show their status, while common people were not allowed to do that. It was not until the Spring and Autumn Period (770–476 BC) that this custom was introduced to the general public to mark the location of their ancestral graves.

It says in the Book of Rites that, before Confucius traveled around various states, he planted pines and cypresses at his parents’ graves in order to be able to identify them. In ancient times, most mausoleums and tombs were in the wild, and when people went to sweep the graves and worship their ancestors each year, they found the tombs covered with weeds and difficult to recognize. So some people planted evergreen pines and cypresses on the tombs to make them easy to find the next year. This later became a Qingming Festival custom.

Spring Outings

Around the Qingming Festival, the weather is fine, with breezes and warm spring sun, a great time for outings. Adults and children, men and women put on new shoes and enjoy an outing in the countryside. This custom is known as Spring Outing, Xingqing, Exploring Spring, Seeking Spring, and so on. The Qingming Festival, a day of gratitude and respect for one’s ancestors, is thus also a time for relaxation and happy times.

Customs with Willow Branches

It says in Sui Shi Ji thatin the Jianghuai region during the Five Dynasties period (907-960), every household would put a willow branch on their door to commemorate Jie Zitui. They would make swallows with flour and jujube paste, put one through a willow branch, and put it on the door to evocate Zitui’s soul. The swallow is called “Zitui Yan” (Zitui Swallow).

People believe that wearing willow can smooth the yang energy, invite good luck, and ward off evil spirits and plagues. People would shape willow branches into a circle and wear it on their heads and decorate their houses with willow branches.

Playing on a Swing

To swing (qiūqiān) was originally “qianqiu,” meaning to move by holding a leather rope. In ancient times, swings were mostly made with tree branches as the frame and tied with colorful ribbons. The ropes were usually made of animal skin for strength and durability. Later, swings were made of two ropes fixed to a frame and a seat.

Regarding the origin of the word “swing,” Gao Wuji in the Tang Dynasty wrote in the preface to The Swing in the Harem of Emperor Wu of the Han Dynasty: “The swing (as a phrase) also means thousands of years. Emperor Wu of the Han Dynasty prayed for a thousand years of life, so his harem had many swings for pleasure.” By the Tang Dynasty, swinging on a swing had become an important activity around the Qingming Festival.

Playing Cuju

Cuju (pronounced cù jú蹴鞠) is a game using the feet and a ball that people loved during the Qingming Festival in ancient times, similar to today’s soccer.

According to Shi Wu Ji Yuan by Gao Cheng in the Song Dynasty, the game cuju originated in the era of the Yellow Emperor, initially for training warriors. It became popular among civilians in the Han Dynasty and rather popular in the army during the Tang Dynasty.

The game reached its peak of popularity in the Song Dynasty and was even played in the imperial palace. The “Cuju Painting” by Huang Shen of the Qing Dynasty depicts Emperor Taizu, and Emperor Taizong of Song playing cuju with minister Zhao Pu and other ministers and servants.

It gradually declined in the Ming and Qing Dynasties. One may still see a bit of cuju in today’s shuttlecock kicking.


Kite-flying by the ancients was meant to commemorate their old friends and deceased relatives during the Qingming Festival. They would place their affection on the kite and send it to their deceased relatives and friends. Kite-flying was done both during the day and at night. At night time, strings of small colorful lanterns were hung under the kites or on the strings, like twinkling stars, and were often referred to as “magic lanterns.”

There was a proverb in the Qing Dynasty: “Cut the harriers’ string on the Qingming Festival to release disasters.” People made kites resembling birds of prey (such as harriers, gledes, or kites) and wrote on them about the disasters or illnesses they wanted to get rid of. When the kites were high up in the air, they cut the strings, hoping that the disasters would disappear with the kites in the wind.


In traditional Chinese culture, the Qingming Festival (Tomb-Sweeping Day) is a day to commemorate ancestors and deceased relatives. People feel grateful to their ancestors for their dedication and contributions and remember their moral character. It is a festival that has been passed on from generation to generation, demonstrating a tradition of filial piety and a culture of gratitude.

Around this time of the year, I always reflect on the journey of life. Is the true meaning of life just a journey from birth to death that ends up in ashes? It’s really worth thinking deeply about.

I would like to end the article with an original poem, “Being Safe Is a Blessing.” I hope that everyone can stay away from the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and be happy and safe.

Being Safe Is a Blessing

Everyone in the world is seeking happiness,Yet they don’t know that being safe is a blessing.Stay away from the evil CCP to avoid disasters,It is a real blessing to learn the truth.