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Observing Qingming Festival in Spring
Source: Ningbo Daily  | 2022-04-01 09:07:00

Volunteers are making traditional food. [Photo by Xu Neng]

By Xu Zhuowei

A drizzling rain falls like tears on the Mourning Day; the mourner travels with his heart lost in dismay.

This quote is from one of the best-known poems by 9^th-century Chinese poet Du Mu. The "Mourning Day" mentioned in the poem is the Chinese Tomb-Sweeping Day, also called the Qingming Festival.

Qingming's Long History

Qingming Festival is a celebration rooted in Chinese culture and marks one of the 24 solar terms in the lunar calendar. Falling between mid-and late spring, it is an occasion for the Chinese to remember and to make ritual offerings to our ancestors. Alternative names for the Festival include Qingming Festival can trace its origins to ancestor worship beliefs and springtime rituals in ancient China. Tomb-sweeping and nature trips are the two main activities of the Festival, having been practiced for thousands of years.

Almost every Chinese family will head to cemeteries to clean and sweep the tombs of their deceased family members. People use this occasion to honor the memories of their dead, keep alive the traditions of a timeless legacy, and to feel more grounded spiritually in our modern world.

For many office workers, Qingming Festival is a time to go out for a hike and take a break from their busy work routine. For those who value to tradition, it is a time that evokes a sense of nostalgia. Together, these emotions shape the modern-day Tomb-Sweeping Day that we are familiar with.

In some areas of southern China such as Ningbo, there is a custom of eating qingtuan (green rice ball) during the Festival. They are made of glutinous rice dyed with the juice of barley grass and contain differently-flavored fillings. Their soft texture, delicious taste, and subtle herby fragrance of herbs will make you feel as if you are biting into spring itself.

Sales of Qingming

Food Surge

With the approach of Qingming, seasonal treats such as qingtuan (green rice ball), maci (fried glutinous rice cake), and jintuan (golden rice ball) are taking center stage in pastry stores and supermarkets, attracting many consumers. This year, many new flavors are making a debut, alongside traditional ones.

"You have to go as early as possible. After 3 pm, the freshly-made qingtuan and jintuan will be sold out," citizen Ms. Lou instructed her husband. Rice-based treats from the best-known local brands sell out quickly, so it is always a good idea to head over early in the day. As the holiday draws near, traditional pastry sales are going up.

At one of the oldest pastry stores in Ningbo, a chef brings out trays of freshly-steamed sweet buns and stamps a red pattern on the center of each one. The buns, qingtuan, and jintuan are arranged neatly on the counter. A store clerk is busily packaging the qingtuan, jintuan, and sweet buns and handing them to the waiting customers. Qingtuan and jintuan are sold at a price of 2.8 yuan to 5 yuan each.

"We have been doing very good business lately. Usually, everything would be sold out by afternoon. Customers who arrive late would have to come again the next day," said a store clerk. Most of the pastries will be used as offerings at Qingming rituals or consumed at housewarming and birthday celebrations.

In a large supermarket on Tianhe Road, Jiangbei, a large display of qingtuan offers consumers over ten flavors to choose from: sesame, rice-and-red-bean, pumpkin-and-orange, strawberry, jujube, taro, peanut, and pork floss. People can be bought by box or by weight.

Digital Tomb-Sweeping

Booking System Launched

For this year's Qingming Festival, Ningbo has once again opened the citywide digital system for pre-booking cemetery entry. By inputting their identity information, citizens can pre-register to sweep their family's new tombs. This is the system's second year in use. New functions have been added.

According to Ningbo custom, new tombs must be swept on the day of Qingming Festival. This year's system has a new section specifically for those sweeping new tombs, prioritizing their bookings for the time slots of April 5^th.

To reduce crowding and prevent the risk of the pandemic spreading, the Municipal Civil Affairs Bureau rolled out a "virtual tomb-sweeping" function on WeChat. Citizens can enter the information of their deceased on the Ningbo Minzheng ("Ningbo Civil Affairs") WeChat account to offer virtual flowers, candles, and messages.

Cemeteries in Ningbo are also opening online platforms where citizens can host virtual rituals free of charge. For example, on Tongtai Jialing Cemetery's website, citizens can view real-time video feeds of their deceased's tombs and offer virtual flowers, joss sticks, fruits, and cups of tea or spirits. The VR function gives visitors an immersive, panoramic view of their loved ones' final resting place.