Qingtuan, green sticky rice balls
Qingming, literally meaning “clear and bright,” is known in China as the tomb-sweeping day, but its origins lie in the solar terms and suggests a change of climate.
Qingming usually occurs on April 4 or April 5 when the sun's elliptical longitude reaches 15 degrees, marking a noticeable warm weather and rich food sources.
This year, it will fall on Tuesday.
The arrival of Qingming signals the end of the “three periods of waiting” — waiting for the tung flower to blossom, waiting for the field mouse to go back to the caves, and waiting for the rainbows to show up in the sky.
It is marked by frequent rain, especially in south China including Shanghai. It is still a good season to plant seeds, while some farmers also start rearing silkworms. Outings, flying kites, playing cuju (ancient football) and planting trees are among the activities that mark the arrival of Qingming.
It is also the time to enjoy “knife fish” (coilia ectenes), spiral shell and green tea.
Knife fish, one of the three delicacies of the Yangtze River, is enjoyed especially before Qingming Festival as its soft edible bones reportedly hardens after that. The fish can fetch as much as 8,000 yuan (US,159.42) per kilogram.
Spiral shells, similarly, taste most succulent and tender around Qingming when they are ready to reproduce.
Green tea picked and processed before Qingming usually has the best quality and fragrance.
In fact, Qingming was originally a day meant for celebrations just like lichun, or Spring Begins, while it was for Hanshi Festival (the 105th day after the dongzhi, or Winter Solstice) that people commemorated their ancestors thousands of years ago. But with Hanshi falling a day before or after Qingming, the two annual events gradually became one.
Over the years Hanshi was forgotten, but its customs like avoiding fire, sweeping tombs and eating cold foods became part of the Qingming rituals.
Apart from appreciating what Mother Nature has to offer in spring, the day is marked in China by visits to the tombs. The family tomb is cleaned and the weeds removed, grave inscriptions touched up, withered flowers replaced and food and fruits placed as offerings to the ancestors.