Treading on the Greenery

Fourth of April, on the solar calendar. It marks the beginning of the fourth of 24 ‘solar terms’ on the traditional Chinese calendar – 清明 Qing Ming. The first day of this solar term is清明节 Qing Ming Jie –  清明Qing Ming, or ‘clear and bright’ festival.

From an early post about Qing Ming :

Unfortunately, for one reason or another – probably due to the influx of missionaries in China during the 18th Century and the fact that Jesuists were responsible for much of “translations” –  Qing Ming Jie, with it’s amazing sense of time, place, season, mixed with ritual, worship, and respecting those who came before, is usually translated baldly as “Tomb Sweeping Day”.

清明节 Qing Ming Jie has been celebrated in China for over 2500 years – the festival can be traced back to the Zhou dynasty.

The festival has been immortalised in a paintingGoing Upriver on Qingming Jie,  which has been recreated in gorgeous Suzhounese embroidery.

Most Chinese people visit the graves of deceased relatives on this day, to offer prayers to those who have passed.

清明 – literally means Clear and Bright  – 清  qing means clear and  明 ming  is bright. Today I learnt a new term – 踏青 ta qing.

This character qing means green. You could be forgiven for thinking that it is the same  青 qing as in 清明 qing ming –  the characters are very similar. Let’s look at them  closely:

     青 and  清

青, meaning green, has the water radical added on the left side,

turning the character into 清. Thus: water plus green equals clear.

  ming , meaning bright, is made up of the characters  日   ri,  sun, and 月yue, moon. The sun and moon together make bright.

the 踏  ta in踏青 ta qing means to tread on, so we get 踏青ta qing,  meaning literally to tread upon greenery.

People in Hangzhou. Zhejiang enjoy “treading on the greenery” during a spring outing today on Qing Ming Jie. Photo from xinhua.net

Being an important day for Chinese people to pay respects to the ancestors, most Daoist temples practice funerary rites on these days. A three day or four day long set of ritual ceremonies, Qing Ming rites usually include ceremonies for helping the spirits of the dead, like 施食 shi shi, literally bestowing food, a ceremony which is often translated into English as “Feeding the Hungry Ghosts”>

As this is China, there’s bound to be special food for the occasion. Common in the southern areas is qingtuan – round green balls with different kinds of sweet or savoury fillings. I ate some just like these:Oh, and if you are in China – don’t forget the crowded trains. Yesterday I made a trip down to Shanghai and back – the train stations were crowded with people on the move, just like the old days. Railway workers closed the automatic gates and  checked tickets personally, and the carriages were filled with people who, unable to purchase seats, bought “standing tickets” for the trip.

In China, Qing Ming Jie is a very personal, family – and solemn – occasion,