Happy Qīngmíng Jié 清明节 everyone. I thought I’d share what I learned in the English classes I taught this week. This will NOT be an extensive treatment of all the ins and outs of Qingming Jie, just some new things I’ve learned.
1. First year for official holiday. While Qingming Jie is thousands of years old, this is the first year (2008) that it has been an official, government holiday from school and work. I asked my students to theorize why that may be. They sited the following possible factors:
- The May holiday has been shortened to one day (from three previously) which has freed up more holidays to be given to other festivals.
- “Korea has stolen Dragon Boat Festival” and the Chinese don’t want to see that happen with any other rightfully Chinese traditional holidays. (here’s an article that touches on the conflict which seems to have something to do with World Heritage listings).
If anyone else has any theories, I’d love to hear them.
2. For boys, not girls. While some towns allow girls to participate, the tomb sweeping responsibilities are usually for the men of the family.
3. More important in South than North. Apparently, some of my students from northern China didn’t even know what Qingming Jie was. Can anyone up north confirm or deny that this is a trend and not just my students?
If you talk to any Chinese people about their home town’s traditions for Qingming Jie, you may run across some of this vocab. These are words I was asked “how to say…” so often that I actually learned the Chinese for them in the process.
fénmù 坟墓 = tomb / grave
sǎomù 扫墓 = to sweep tombs
bài zǔxiān 拜祖先 = to pay respects to ancestors
shāo xiāng 烧香 = to burn incense
shāo zhū 烧猪 = roast pig
gānzhè 甘蔗 = sugar cane
fàng biānpào 放鞭炮 = set off firecrackers
If you want to know the significance of these things, you’ll have to ask your Chinese informants (or find an article online). If there are some other useful (and confirmed by a native speaker) words I’ve left off, please feel free to share them with us.