Qing Ming Jie (清明节), or Tomb Sweeping Day, is an important day for people from many Asian cultures. In South Korea, the day is known as Hansik (한식), while in Vietnam, it's known as Tết Hàn Thực. The holiday is marked a little differently to the jubilant holidays of Spring Festival (Chun Jie, 春节) or Mid-Autumn Day (Zhong Qiu Jie, 中秋节), and carries a more sombre, more reflective attitude.
For thousands of years, the ideas of ancestry and family lineage have been key to Chinese culture and even to Chinese religious belief. Qing Ming is a day that is set aside to clean and maintain the tombs of these ancestors and to recognise those who have gone before us.
It is not a "happy" time of feasting and gift-giving, but neither is it a time for weeping and sadness. It is more a time of consideration and of understanding for the ancestors who are no longer with us, and to whom we owe a great deal.
To learn about the history of Qing Ming Jie, we must go back over 2,600 years -- before the unification of China under the Qin Dynasty. At this time, one of the most powerful states in the region was the Jin State, ruled by Duke Wen of Jin.
Before rising to the position of leader, Duke Wen spent many years in exile, where he was served by many loyal attendants, including one named Jie Zitui. Following his triumphal return, Duke Wen rewarded the loyalty of these attendants, but Jie refused these rewards, instead retreated to a location deep in the mountains. Duke Wen, now focused on affairs of state, took a whole year to notice that Jie had gone into an exile of his own. When he tried to call Jie back, the heartbroken Jie refused. When the Duke, now an emperor, set fire to the mountain on which Jie was hiding, in an effort to drive him out, Jie refused to leave and was killed.
The emperor, overcome with remorse, declared this day a day of remembrance and mourning -- the first Qing Ming Jie.
Many of the traditions of Qing Ming Jie have remained unchanged throughout the centuries. To this day, Chinese people continue to burn offerings to their ancestors -- such as joss incense or paper money -- to provide them with gifts for use in the other world.
Primarily, however, Chinese people visit the tombs of their ancestors on this day. They sweep or clean the tombs, and conduct other maintenance tasks as a sign that these important ancestors are not forgotten.
Other ways of mourning and remembering ancestors include setting off firecrackers, flying traditional kites, playing Cuju and eating traditional food according to their ancestors' specific part of China.
How Chinese people who live overseas mark the Qing Ming Jie festival largely depends on what facilities are available to them in their area. For those whose ancestors are buried far away in their home country, they may decide to simply burn an offering to show their respect. However, if the resting place is easier to reach, family members will visit the tomb and conduct the sweeping and maintenance rituals that are customary.
Many memorial parks and grounds aim to offer a warm, welcoming and respectful experience for local Asian communities on this important day. Many visitors come to visit memorials with their families, and so the park staff provide amenities such as flower booths and iron barrels for the burning of money and offerings. Transportation, such as shuttle buses, may also be offered for the convenience of mourners.