The Qingming Festival is a national holiday in Taiwan.
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Officially known as Qingming Jie, this festival is a traditional Chinese celebration set aside to honour departed family members. Also known as Ching Ming Festival or Tomb-Sweeping Day, Taiwanese families remember their ancestors by cleaning and offering sacrifices that may benefit the deceased. Qingming Jie is celebrated annually on April 5 in Taiwan.
Tomb-Sweeping Day in Taiwan
The celebration of Tomb-Sweeping Day and ancestor worship dates back nearly 2,500 years in Chinese culture. Although the celebration of Qingming Jie was banned on the mainland in 1949 by the communist Chinese, the people of Taiwan continued to honour their ancestors in keeping with their cultural heritage. This has been a great source of national pride for the Taiwanese people. The communist rulers on the mainland reversed the longstanding ban against celebrating the Qingming Festival in 2008, and Tomb-Sweeping Day is now widely celebrated throughout China as it is in several other Asian countries.
The literal meaning of Qingming Jie is Pure Brightness Festival. Traditionally, the day to honour ancestors is celebrated on the first day of the fifth solar term according to the Chinese lunisolar calendar. In Taiwan, however, the official public holiday of Qingming Jie is always celebrated on April 5 to honour the memory of the late Chiang Kai-shek.
It is believed that Qingming Jie was originally derived from the Cold Food Festival, or Hanshi Festival, a festival in the spring and autumn established by Duke Wen of Jin in 636 BC to honour a loyal retainer named Jie Zitui. It seems that Jie Zitui was accidentally killed when the Duke set fire to a forest to drive his former retainer out of hiding. The Duke then ordered three days without fire to remember his devoted servant.
The Qingming Festival is more directly attributed to Tang Emperor Xuanzong, who established a specific day for honouring ancestors in 732 AD because he felt that the people were devoting too much time to ancestor worship.
Qingming Festival Celebration
The Qingming Festival is characterized by a number of cultural traditions to honour family ancestors. Among these unique traditions is the preparation of green dumplings, referred to as either caozaiguo or shuchuguo, a confection composed of barley grass and glutinous rice. The national holiday is also used as a welcome opportunity to enjoy a little rest and relaxation. Families share meals together and explore the natural habitat of rural Taiwan.
Many Taiwanese families travel to rural or mountainous areas to visit the family columbarium. Family members, young and old, recite prayers and present offerings as part of the annual religious ritual. The offerings consist of anything that might be of use to the deceased in the afterlife, including flowers, chopsticks, foods and libations. One custom is to offer joss paper folded in the form or imprinted with the name of some desirable article such as an air conditioner or car. The joss paper is burned at the gravesite to usher the gift into the afterlife.
Willow branches are also a traditional part of the Qingming Jie celebration. Willow branches are traditionally employed to ward off evil spirits in Chinese culture. Families decorate their doors and gates with willow branches, and people can be seen carrying willow branches throughout the day. The warding off of evil spirits also provides an opportune time for farmers to begin the spring ploughing or young couples to begin courting. Singing, dancing, exploding firecrackers and flying kites are also part of the Qingming Festival tradition.
The family burial grounds of Taiwanese families are often large and covered with vegetation. The family uses the occasion of Qingming Jie to clean the area and prune the vegetation. Therefore, the title of Tomb Sweeping Day is most appropriate. Respect for honoured ancestors is an enduring aspect of Chinese culture. The nation of Taiwan has been able to keep the ancient tradition of Qingming Jie alive in spite of the strong influence of modern culture.