Qingming Festival

The Qingming Festival, commonly known as Tomb-Sweeping Day, holds great significance in the Chinese cultural calendar as a time to honor and remember ancestors. Falling on the 15th day after the Spring Equinox, typically between April 4th and 6th, families come together to clean ancestral graves, make offerings, burn incense and paper items. Unique customs include refraining from cooking, flying kites, and planting trees. This occasion blends solemnity with joy, recognizing both ancestral reverence and the vitality of spring. Let’s discover the importance of the Qingming Festival and tourism industry to the country.

Source: The Wall Street Journal

Qingming Festival Origins

The Qingming Festival originated from an ancient Chinese celebration known as 寒食节 (Hánshíjié), commonly known in English as the Cold Food Festival.
The Hanshi Festival (Qingming Festival) honors Jie Zitui, a loyal follower of Duke Wen of Jin during the Spring and Autumn Period. Jie Zitui sacrificed himself by cutting flesh from his thigh to feed the starving duke. Later, when Duke Wen sought to reward him, Jie Zitui refused, living a humble life in the woods. Duke Wen, wanting to summon him, set a forest fire which tragically resulted in Jie Zitui’s death. In remorse, Duke Wen banned fire for several days to commemorate Jie Zitui’s sacrifice.
Through time, the practice of abstaining from fire, leading to the consumption of cold food, extended to neighboring areas and gained prominence. Initially observed in winter, the Cold Food Festival could span up to a month in certain regions. As time passed, its customs became intertwined with those of the Qingming Festival. While the Cold Food Festival is seldom observed independently today, its legacy endures in the custom of refraining from consuming cooked food during the Qingming Festival.

Source: Chinese Language Institute

Qingming Festival: Traditional Food

Due to its historical connection with the Cold Food Festival, the Qingming Festival observes a tradition of consuming solely cold dishes. In the southern regions of China, a customary way to mark this occasion is by indulging in 青团 (qīngtuán), circular, sticky, and mildly sweet dumplings crafted from glutinous rice and infused with barley grass or Chinese mugwort. These dumplings are frequently filled with delicacies such as sweet red bean paste.
Another popular treat during this festivity is 馓子 (sǎnzi), which are salty dough twists fried to perfection in advance, then left to cool and harden. Composed of numerous thin strands of dough, each 馓子 (sǎnzi) resembles a cluster of spaghetti, offering a crunchy texture when enjoyed cold and often adorned with sesame seeds for added flavor.

Sǎnzi and Qingtuan,
source: the China Project, Chinese Language Institute

Qingming Festival: Tourism Industry

During the Qingming Festival, renowned for its cultural depth and the flourishing beauty of spring, tourist traffic experiences a notable increase, both domestically and internationally.
Within China, locales such as Huangling in Jiangxi province and Luoping in Yunnan transform into vivid tapestries of color, hosting traditional festivities. The Badaling Great Wall in Beijing provides a historical setting for those observing the occasion.
Popular destinations like Beijing, Shanghai, and Nanjing are top choices for the holiday period. Additionally, lesser-known places such as Tianshui and Zhanjiang have witnessed a surge in bookings due to being perceived as more affordable alternatives.
China also recorded 2.95 million inbound and outbound trips by foreigners in the first two months of 2024, indicating an increase in foreigners’ willingness to visit China amid the country’s efforts to make tourism more affordable.

Luoping in Yunnan, source: Colorful Yunnan

In conclusion, the Qingming Festival retains its significance in China, offering individuals the opportunity to honor their ancestors and relish the beauty of nature. It serves as a moment to rejoice in the arrival of spring, even if visiting ancestral tombs isn’t feasible. One can also commemorate the occasion by savoring traditional Qingming delicacies. In addition, China experiences approximately 24 million domestic tourist visits during the Qingming season, showing a preference for visits to museums, theme parks, and spring outings focused on flowers. Specific destinations like the Great Wall in Beijing, Fenghuangling, Tanzhe Temple, and Jinshanling Great Wall are especially popular due to their historical and cultural significance.

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