Qingming Festival is a Chinese holiday people spend paying respect to their ancestors. It’s celebrated on April 4th or 5th. The date fluctuates because it comes 104 days after the winter solstice. In China, Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan it is an official holiday so most schools and businesses are closed. People get three days off to so they have time to travel back to their ancestral gravesites. The holiday has several English names with the most common two being Clear Bright Festival and Tomb Sweeping Day. Tomb Sweeping Day is fitting because it describes one of the main customary activities, clearing away the debris and making basic repairs to the tombs.


During Qingming Festival the normally peaceful cemeteries will be bustling with activity. Once families are finished cleaning the gravesites preparations are made to ensure their ancestors are having a comfortable afterlife. One of the most important customs is burning ghost money, paper money made from bamboo or rice paper. Traditionally only ghost money was burned but modern times have led to modern needs in the afterlife. Some of the items you might see getting burned range from paper credit cards and checks to paper iPhones, clothes, cars, houses and even paper servants for heavenly pampering.

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Along with burning ghost money favorite foods, drinks or even lit cigarettes for the smokers are placed on the resting places. Other items like incense and flowers will be arranged at the site before the family members take turns kowtowing to their ancestors. Once finished the family might enjoy the usually good weather by having a picnic, flying kites or going for a walk.

While most tombs could be described as being average in size some families can afford to buy huge plots of land and build tombs fit for kings. These tombs will often feature bodies of water in the front and a line of trees in the back in accordance with the principles of fengshui. These king sized tombs can’t fit in with the regular population. Some of these tombs can be seen nearby and some might be lone tombs on a private mountains.

Locations Around Asia

Talking to locals is key to finding the most interesting cemeteries and tombs when looking for locations away from major cities. Burial sites will be in and around the larger cities.

The Babaoshan Revolutionary Cemetery in western Beijing is home to many of China’s highest ranking revolutionary heroes and government officials. The largest cemetery in Hong Kong is Wo Hop Shek Public Cemetery in the New Territories. Opening in 1950, it started when the cemeteries on Hong Kong Island began to reach capacity. While all modern Asians burn items besides ghost money you’ll see the most extravagant examples in Hong Kong.

Although many families in Taipei head south to pay respect to their ancestors Jianbaoshan, located on a mountainside near Jinshan in New Taipei, is sure to please. It’s well known for it’s abundance of original works of art and sculptures scattered throughout the grounds. The most frequently visited grave is one belonging to Taiwanese singer Teresa Teng. Her site features a life sized statue and a large electric keyboard with keys set in the ground which visitors can play by walking across.

History of Qingming Festival

There is an often told story of Prince Chong Er who was forced to flee his empire for fear of being murdered. A loyal government official called Jie Zitui helped him escape and remained with him for his years in exile. On one particularly harsh evening Jie Zitui sacrificed a piece of his leg to make a meal for the young prince.

When the trouble passed they safely returned, Chong Er reclaimed his position as prince and Jie Zitui moved into the forest to enjoy a life of solitude. Determined to find Jie Zitui and reward his efforts the prince, following the advice of one of his officials, burned down the forest to smoke Jie Zitui out, when the fires ceased they found his body among the ashes.

In order to honor Jie Zitui the prince created a day when people would avoid using fire. This day was called Hanshi Festival or, in English, Cold Food Festival. Hanshi Festival is no longer widely observed but Qingming Festival has assimilated its story and custom of eating cold food. What really solidified Qingming Festival as a holiday were the actions of Emperor Xuanzong of the Tang dynasty. Having grown tired of seeing the extravagant, wasteful and what he felt were too frequent celebrations in honor of various ancestors by the rich, he decided to take action. He passed a decree stating that these celebrations could only take place at the graves of the ancestors and only once a year, during the QingMing Festival.

Qingming Festival is a unique holiday where a variety of religious and cultural customs take place in concentrated locations, in a condensed amount of time and featuring a large number of participants. With the scenic locations of Chinese cemeteries, the often elegant tombs and the various cultural practices, there is a lot to see and experience.

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