Qingming Festival Legend & Customs

qingming poster
kite flying
QingMing Poem
willow over gate
city 2

By UniNi

Qingming Festival - Legend, traditions and customs. A 3-day long holiday that falls on the 5th of April this year!

Can you hear Spring calling? Warmer days are on the horizon and April marks the coming of the Qingming Festival, a 3-day long holiday! This year, it falls on the 5th of April. You may have heard about the tomb-sweeping festival as it is an official public holiday, but what about the legend behind it and the Chinese customs?

The Legend of Jie Zitui

During the Period of Spring and Autumn in the Jin Kingdom, one of the King's sons named Chong Er was accused by a concubine of rebellion in the hopes to make her own son the crown prince. Chong Er was framed and had no choice but to flee with some of his closest officials to the mountains. At their hideaway, supplies ran low and they began to starve. An official named Jie Zitui took upon great pain to cut flesh from his thigh so they could cook soup and assure Chong Er's survival. The prince was moved by Jie Zityui and said that the best way he could repay him is to be honored with the title of the King of justice upon his return to power.

They lived a life of hunger and cold for three years until the evil concubine who had framed the Chong Er passed on. The passing of the concubine brought out the truth of what happened to Chong Er and the king ordered for the wrongs to be righted; Chong Er was to be crowned the rightful king.  Soldiers were sent to escort the prince home. While entering the carriage, Chong Er saw an official pack an old mat onto a horse and laughingly said, 'What on earth is the use of that? Throw it away!' Jie Zitui, exhausted and injured was disheartened when he heard that and sighed, 'It is a hardship that can be shared with his majesty but not prosperity.' He decided to walk away quietly at that moment and live in seclusion with his old mother.

As Chong Er rose to be King, he rewarded his officials from the mountain hideaway but forgot about Jie Zitui and his honorable actions. He did not realize his mistake until later when an official asked what was the reason for his restraint from acknowledging Jie Zitui's good deed. Chong Er, admitting absent mindedness, invited Jie Zitue to the kingdom, however, his invitation was declined. Now, Chong Er felt insulted by his official disobeying his commands and ordered soldiers to burn up the mountain where Jie was staying and force him out. Jie and his mother were found the next day, scorched under a willow. Jie Zitue had decided he would rather die than yield to this show of power.

Chong Er was overwhelmed with regret and ordered his people to hold a memorial ceremony for Jie. Since then, Qing Ming Festival has become a day of mourning where folks express their grief and declare their respects to those who have passed along.

<< Qing Ming >> by Du Mu

The four-verse poem beautifully encapsulates the atmosphere and mood that often accompanies the festival.


Heavy raindrops fall like tears on Qing Ming,

Even the people on the street look lifeless.

Where can I find a wine shop to drink my sorrows away?

The shepherd boy points to Xing Hua Village


At this point, the festival may seem solemn and sorrowful, but it’s not all tears and grief! While Qingming is known to be a festival to remember the deceased, the Chinese also take this time to celebrate the transition from Winter to Spring when leaves start growing and flowers begin to bloom.

Let’s check out some of the customs followed by the Chinese during the Qingming Festival!

Tomb Sweeping


Tomb sweeping is regarded as the most important custom in the Qingming Festival. Cleaning the tomb and paying respect to the deceased with offerings are two important ways of remembering past on relatives as the Chinese value the virtue of filial piety. Dirt and weeds around the tombstones are cleared and fresh soil is added to show their care. The deceased’s favorite food and wine are presented as offerings to them, along with incense and red notes as money. These are burned so that the deceased will receive the food and money for an afterlife of abundance.  Today, with cremation replacing burial, the custom has been simplified in cities to flowers and fruits as offerings.

Hanging Willow Branches on Gates

Willows tend to sprout in Spring, coinciding with the Tomb-sweeping festival. It is said that willow branches help to ward off evil spirits and by hanging them on their door during this festival, their families will be protected by stray ghosts and spirits.

Spring Outing

Qingming is also a time for people to enjoy the weather transition.  During March, everything in nature takes on a new look, as trees turn green, flowers blossom, and the sun shines brightly. It is a fine time to go out and appreciate the beautiful scenes of nature.

Flying Kites


Kite flying is a common activity during the Qingming Festival. Small lanterns are tied to the kite or the string. When the kite is flying, the lanterns look like twinkling stars that add the scenery scenery looks to twinkling stars that add While the kite is in flight to let it fly free. It is said this brings good luck and that diseases can be eliminated by doing so.


 Qingming cakes - sazi (撒子sāzi)

Many Chinese, especially in the South, prepare and eat Qingtuan, which are green glutinous rice balls with sweetened bean paste fillings. Other foods include the sazi, a fried wheat pastry and Qingming snails which are escargots cooked with onions, ginger, soy sauce, Wine, and sugar.

All in all, the Qingming Festival is an occasion of unique characteristics, integrating rememberance for the deceased with positivity of the spring outing.

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UniNi Childrens University's new Gulou Drum Tower location is now open!

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At UniNi Tianjin, we believe character building is fundamental to the success of an individual. We place the seven elements of character development at the heart of our curriculum: Passion, Gratitude, Optimism, Social awareness, Curiosity, Self-control, and Determination.

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