Legend of Qingming, or Tomb Sweeping Day

September 26, 2010 | Posted by Chris

Observers of Qingming, or Tomb Sweeping Day, remembering departed loved ones, above.

Tomb Sweeping Day, called Qingming Day in Chinese, is a traditional Chinese festival with a long history. It usually occurs around April 5. It is a holiday to go out to enjoy the greenery of springtime and tend to the graves of the departed loved ones.


Tomb Sweeping Day originate from a story that took place in the Spring and Autumn Period in China (8th - 5th century BC). According to legend, Duke Wen of Jin arranged for the holiday in memory of one of his followers and friends, Jie Zitui. Back before Wen became a Duke, Jie followed and took good care of Wen. Once, when he was exiled, there was no food, and Wen was nearly starved to die. At that time, Jie prepared him some meat soup. Wen enjoyed the meal and wondered where he got the meat. According to legend, it turned out Jie had cut his own flesh from his thigh to cook the soup. Wen was so moved that he promised he would reward him in the future. But Jie was not the type of person looking for reward. He just wanted to help Wen. Later, after many years, Wen became the Duke, and he remembered Jie. However, Jie had moved into a forest to live with his mother and refused to accept his reward. Wen went into the forest to look for him, but he didn’t want to show up. Heeding suggestions from his officials, he decided to set the forest on fire to force Jie out. Unfortunately, Jie died in the fire. With agony and remorse, Wen ordered three days without fire in honor of Jie. Hence, the Tomb Sweeping Day now, when observers take a time out from their busy days to remember departed loved ones.

In China, this holiday offers people an opportunity to remember and honor their ancestors at grave sites. Usually, food, tea and joss paper accessories are taken to the grave site and tombs are carefully swept.

Put very short, Tomb Sweep Day is considered a festival with more yearning than laughter, because it reminds people to honor their ancestors and departed ones.

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