Detail from Qingming Riverside by Zhang
When is Ching Ming Festival?
Ching Ming, Qingming, the Remembrance of Ancestors Day or Grave-Sweeping Day
This date is indicated on the Chinese calendar by the two characters: ching, meaning pure or clean, and ming, meaning brightness. Combined together, Ching Ming means clean and just.
This date is also indicated on traditional Japanese calendars, where their culture has a similar observance. In Korean culture, the observance is known as Hansik.
Ancestor worship is the only native religion to China. All others, including, Buddhism, Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, were imported from outside of China. (Confucianism and Taoism originated in China but are philosophies rather than religions.)
Ching Ming rituals not only include weeding of the area, cleaning of the headstone, and replacing the wilted flowers with fresh ones, but also the lighting of incense and burning of imitation paper money. The burning of the imitation money is for the deceased to use in the afterlife.
The imitations burnt are no longer limited to just money. In recent years, the burning of paper imitations of a wide variety of consumer goods has become popular. This includes all manner of objects, such a iphones, designer handbags, houses and sports cars.
In addition, food is laid out in front of the headstone as an offering to the spirits of the deceased.
Each family member comes in front of the headstone and bows three times with their right fist held cupped in their left hand. Some families will then eat the food at the grave site, akin to having a picnic with their deceased relatives. It is said to bring good luck to eat the food that was offered to the deceased . Some families may also set off firecrackers to scare off evil spirits and to alert the deceased relatives that they are there to pay their respects.
Today, the responsibility to hang san or ’walk the mountain’ as visiting the cemetery is commonly known, still falls to the eldest son. Today families may be more likely to prefer simplified offerings of only the incense, paper money and flowers.
In Taiwan, this holiday is known as Tomb Sweeping Day. The day is a statutory public holiday with most businesses and schools closing for the day.
Recently it has been announced that in Taiwan, the holiday has moved to always fall on 5 April so that it also commemorates the death of a prominent Chinese leader in the late 1920s. While Tomb Sweeping day may fall on 5 April in some years and in 2013, 5 April is a bridge holiday - as usual with the dates of Taiwanese public holidays, it is difficult to get exact details.