Qingming is a celebration of spring in China, a time to honor one’s ancestors and to anticipate the tea harvest.
Last week 10 million Chinese traveled by train to visit family with many more driving from larger cities to their ancestral homes. There they picnic, present offerings and clean the grave sites of past generations.
Tea farmers reported a good harvest of early sprouts (Mingqian) amid favorable weather (light rainfall and gentle breezes). West Lake Longjing (Dragonwell) is a benchmark that brings some of the highest prices of the year. Premium grades are currently selling online for $35 for 50 grams ($700 per kilo retail).
Farmers got an early start this year with parts of Zhejiang province plucking tea as early as the first week of March. The harvest was well advanced by April in Baling township of Xingren county, southwest China’s Guizhou province and Guanmi village of Lifang township in Guangze county, in southeast China’s Fujian province.
The Xinhua News Agency reported large crowds and fair weather for the holiday. In Shanghai China Daily reported that officials estimated 5 million people, most wearing somber garb and carrying offerings, visited the city’s memorial parks.
“It’s a tradition to visit the tomb of a loved one on Tomb-Sweeping Day within three years of the death. This is why memorial parks are usually extremely crowded on the day itself,” explained Qiao Meixiao, a 59-year-old Shanghai native.
Families make paper offerings, often burning symbolic cash to commemorate their ancestors. “People believe that by burning these offerings, the dead would have money to spend in the other world,” said Bao Meiyuan, an 87-year-old Shanghai resident. “People usually prepare the favorite dishes of their late family members. The number of the dishes and the number of each kind of fruit must be an odd number as even numbers are usually reserved for joyous occasions, such as the birth of a child and weddings,” she explained.
A three-day holiday was instituted in 2009 but Tomb-Sweeping Day dates to the Zhou dynasties (c.11th century-256 BC). In Huangling, in Shaanxi province, the occasion also marks the memorial to the Yellow Emperor, the first to unify China 5,000 years ago. He is said to be buried on Qiaoshan Mountain. Since the Han Dynasty (206 BC-AD 220) a ceremonial drum is beaten 34 times representing China’s 34 regions and a large bell is run nine times for luck.