Qing Ming, 清明, or Seimei in Japanese, and Cheongmyeong 청명사 (Korean) and Thanh minh (Vietnamese) is the 5th solar term of the traditional calendar. In space partitioning, Qingming begins when the sun reaches the celestial longitude of 15° and ends when it reaches the longitude of 30°. The first pentad for Qingming is 桐始華/桐始华, ‘The paulownia begins to bloom’. The second is 田鼠化為鴽/田鼠化为鴽, ‘Voles transform into quails’. Just when you tink all the names will make sense you get one like this. Obviously voles (tiny rodents) don’t transfoem into birds. I wish I had access to more history of these sayings. And the last pentad is 虹始見/虹始见, ‘Rainbows begin to appear’. To the Japanese they are first, 玄鳥至 (tsubame itaru), ‘The swallow flies back from the south’. The second is 鴻雁北 (kōgan kitae kaeru), ‘The goose migrates to the north’. The third is 虹始見 (niji hajimete arawaru), ‘Rainbows begin to appear in the sky Clear and Bright is a period in which Chinese people honor nature and the ancestors of the Chinese nation. The worship of nature and ancestors can be traced to ancient times, and still matters a lot in modern society. Cleaning the tombs and paying respect to the dead with offerings are the two important practices. Weeds around the tomb are cleared away and fresh soil is added to show care for the dead. The dead person’s favorite food, wine and chopsticks are offered on their tombs, along with paper money. These sacrifices are all burned in the hope that the deceased will not lack food and money in the afterlife.after shower’.
Of all the 24 solar terms, Clear and Bright is the only one whose first day is also a traditional Chinese festival, Tomb-Sweeping Day. The words “clear” and “bright” describe the weather during this period. Temperatures begin to rise and rainfall increases, making it a crucial time for plowing and sowing in the spring. We are not geeting either clear o bright here, although the rainfall is increasing.
In many parts of China, eating eggs during Tomb-Sweeping Day is as important as eating moon cakes at Mid-Autumn Festival. The Chinese folk belief is that eating an egg on Tomb-Sweeping Day will bring good health all year. In China, this custom has lasted for thousands of years. The origin of eating eggs dates back to “Shangsi Jie” (a traditional Chinese festival). In ancient times, women who wanted to conceive dyed boiled eggs in assorted colors and put them into the river. People living in the lower reaches of the river fished out the eggs and ate them. It was believed the more eggs were eaten, the greater the chance the woman would get pregnant. Today, people believe that eating eggs on Tomb-Sweeping Day will bring success. I find it more than a little coincidental that eggs are connected with spring in both Chinese Qinming and western Easter, which both fall closely together.
Legend has it that Clear and Bright is one of three periods during the year in which ghosts come closest to the world of living men. Buddhists believe that willow branches will drive away unwelcome ghosts and evil spirits. Therefore, willow branches are also known as “ghost terror wood.” Folk proverbs also make mention of willow for Clear and Bright. One proverb states that if a young woman does not wear a willow branch during the Clear and Bright period, she will soon turn old. Another says: “If one does not wear a willow, he will become a yellow dog after he dies and is reincarnated.”
Not only is it a period for commemorating the dead, it is also time for people to go out and enjoy nature. As trees turn green, flowers blossom, and the sun shines brightly, everything returns to life. It is a fine time to appreciate the beauty of nature. This custom can be traced back to the Spring and Autumn Period (770 – 476BC) and Warring States Period (475 – 221BC). Strolling outside in spring adds joy to life and promotes a healthy body and mind.
Flying kites is an activity favored by many Chinese during Tomb-Sweeping Day. Kites are not only flown during the day time but also in the evening. Little lanterns are tied to the kite or to the kitestring. And when the kites are flying in the sky, the lanterns look like twinkling stars at night. What makes flying kites during this day special is that people cut the string while the kite is in the sky to let it fly free. It is said this brings good luck and keeps diseases at bay.
In the lower reaches of the Yangtze River region, qingtuan or green cake is very popular snack on Tomb-Sweeping Day. Qingtuan is a round green dumpling made of glutinous rice flour. In order to make the cakes, people mash green herbs, usually barley grass or chinese mugwort, for their juice and mix the flour and juice to a paste. Then they inject black bean filling into the paste and steam them. Pretty and delicate, Qingtuan have a mellow taste and special flavor. Qingtuan are also sacrificed to ancestors on Tomb-Sweeping Day.
With all the activities in Clear and Bright you v=can see why it is both important and enjoyable. It is also a good way to remember our anestors, whether you vistit graves and tombs or not. Without them, we would not be here to enjoy the spring, or the fun or the food.