Qingming (Clear and Bright):
A Solar Term & Festival for Mid-Spring Excursions
Qingming, is a solar term and festival celebrated by the Chinese people since the Tang Dynasty for over one thousand years. According to ancient tradition, people were not allowed to use fire to cook on the Cold Food Day which was 105 days after the Winter Solstice, until a few days later when the solar term of Qingming arrived, allowing people to use fire again.
Using fire to burn joss paper, a practice that sends money and goods to deceased relatives, has been an important custom of Qingming, also known as the Tomb-Sweeping Day. This was depicted in the Chinese scroll painting “Along the River during the Qingming Festival”, an all-time masterpiece created in the 12th century. In the painting, there’s a joss paper shop. And among the 800 or so vivid figures, there are two men carrying a palanquin decorated with willow branches; because people believe willows can ward off evil spirits that wander around during Qingming.
However, Qingming is more than honoring those who have passed. During Qingming, as well as another festival in mid-spring called Shangsi Festival, people often hold outdoor gatherings and excursions to celebrate the season of renewal. Such event was recorded in the “Preface to the Poems Collected from the Orchid Pavilion”, written by the Sage of Chinese Calligraphy Wang Xizhi in the 4th century. The Tang Dynasty painting titled “Lady Guoguo's Spring Outing” depicts noble ladies going on an excursion on horses during the Shangsi Festival. The nine figures ride on the sturdy steeds in a leisurely manner, enjoying the fun and relaxing spring excursion.
The festival of Qingming also includes a variety of sports and games, such as playing the ancient Chinese football Cuju, playing on the swing, flying kites and shooting willows with arrows. Among the court ladies painted by the Qing Dynasty artist Jiao Bingzhen a few centuries ago, a lady in blue is on the swing, looking back at her peers, slightly nervous but excited. The fresh green willow branches and the peach blossoms constitute a lovely spring scene. A modern painting by Feng Zikai, a pioneer in Chinese comic art, renders an ancient poem with the swing, the green willows and the pair of swallows, presenting a presumably good spring day around Qingming .
Qingming is a solar term and Chinese festival with a long and profound history. Travelling in time with the above Chinese paintings is an artistic journey, as well as an opportunity to gain an intuitive and in-depth understanding of the traditional culture of Qingming.