The Qingming Festival (Qingming Jie 清明节), also known as Tomb-Sweeping Day, is celebrated on the 15th day after the Spring equinox. It is a day when family members visit the tomb sites of their ancestors. Activities often include offering food, burning ming bi 冥币, and sweeping the tombs. The origin of the Qingming Festival traces back to more than 2500 years ago, with practices associated with Buddhism and ancestor worship, but it was not recognized as a national Chinese holiday until 2008. During the Qingming Festival, there is a tradition of eating qingtuan 青团, which are green dumplings made of mugwort (ai cao 艾草). The Qingming Festival is now a national holiday celebrated all over China; one of the provinces where it is observed is Fujian.

Fujian, a province situated along the coast of Southeast China, boasts a rich cultural heritage where Buddhism holds significant sway. This religious affiliation underscores the longstanding tradition of tomb-sweeping, which permeates the customs of most families in the region. Fujian’s distinctive tombs, known as guike mu 龟壳幕 or turtleback tombs, owe their name to the rounded, turtle-shell-like shape that protrudes from the center of the burial site, where bodies are laid to rest. This unique architectural style traces its origins back to the Song Dynasty. Surrounding the central turtle shell mound is a horseshoe-shaped ridge, meticulously constructed according to feng shui 风水 principles. Its primary function is to shield the tomb from winds on all three sides, underscoring the cultural significance and attention to detail prevalent in Fujian’s burial practices.

During the Qingming Festival, some families in Fujian, such as those in Fuzhou, including my own, begin by indulging in qingming guo 清明粿. Distinguished from the typical qingtuan, which is made from mugwort and filled with black sesame or red bean paste, qingming guo features Pseudognaphalium affine (bobo cao 菠菠草) with shredded white radish and brown sugar filling. On the actual day of the Qingming Festival, my family rises early to embark on tomb-sweeping. Given that most family tombs in Fujian are nestled within mountainous terrain, courtesy of our natural landscape, the ritual entails ascending the mountains armed with a broom to tidy up the tomb sites, which tend to accumulate leaves and vines over time. As Fujian boasts the highest overseas population among Chinese provinces, Qingming serves as a time for overseas families to return home and pay homage to their ancestors.

Qingming guo (Xuan Lin for On Magnolia Square)

In the days preceding and following Qingming, rain often falls, a phenomenon attributed to a longstanding belief. According to tradition, the spirits of the deceased cannot return to visit their families on sunny days. Thus, when it rains, it is said that the spirits follow the rain back to their loved ones. In preparation for their arrival, we meticulously arrange the table with food purchased in the preceding days, placing it before the photographs of our departed relatives. We then set the table, pour small cups of cooking wine, light candles, open the front door, and ignite incense to welcome the departed to enjoy the offerings. As they partake in the meal, we begin burning ming bi, ensuring each departed loved one receives their share by burning a new incense stick for each person while calling out their names. This practice ensures the ancestors receive the money offered.