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Qing Ming Festival : A time to honour ancestors

Qingtuan - qing ming festival food

Discover China’s Day of the Dead; the Qing Ming Festival where families pay respects to deceased relatives and loved ones.


Qing Ming Festival pays tribute to both rebirth and death

Qingtuan, sticky green rice balls made with barley grass or mugwort and filled with red or black bean paste

Qing Ming Festival is celebrated annually across China and Southeast Asia, falling on the 4th or 5th of April. Translating to the curious sounding ‘Tomb Sweeping Day’, it’s a poignant holiday that honours the deceased with celebrants visiting loved ones’ graves and burial grounds to pray and pay respects. Graves will be swept, removing any weeds, incense sticks lit and offerings of food, tea and wine made. Often paper money and miniature versions of material possessions will be burnt to send them to ancestors in the afterlife.

Like any Chinese festival, food plays an integral part with the most popular dish being qingtuan, sticky green rice balls made with barley grass or mugwort and filled with red or black bean paste. Other foods eat during Qing Ming include peach blossom porridge and crispy qing ming cakes. In fact Qing Ming Festival’s origins are food related – cold food, that is. Warning: not for the squeamish…

Peach blossom porridge

About two thousand years ago a lord went into exile, followed by loyal supporter, Jie Zitui. According to legend, Jie fed the hungry lord a piece of his own leg. Years later when the lord returned to the Imperial Court he wanted to reward Jie who’d since moved to the forest to live. In an attempt to find him, the lord set fire to the forest in order to smoke Jie out. Instead Jie died and upon realising his terrible mistake, the lord made the day a nationwide commemoration, ordering three days without fire. To date, people don’t create fire to cook food at Qing Ming Festival, and only cold food can be consumed. The city where Jie died is still called Jiexiu – ‘the place Jie rests forever.’

Like any Chinese festival, food plays an integral part

Qing Ming Festival Celebrations extend beyond graveside activities and one popular custom is kite flying. Flown during the day and at night, when lanterns are tied to the kite strings and resemble twinkling stars. Kite strings are often cut allowing them to fly away free – this is an auspicious ritual that is believed to bring good luck and health.

As the festival signifies the arrival of spring, plowing begins in the fields too and people take walks in nature, enjoying the blossoming trees and flowers. Qing Ming Festival is a time of both joy and sadness, of contemplation and remembrance.

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