Qing Ming, which means clear and bright in Chinese, falls on April 5th this year. It is both the fifth term in the traditional lunar calendar and a festival to hold memorial ceremony for the dead. It is a time to express one's grief for his lost relatives. An ancient elegiac poem, which described a grievous woman, was read that vines tangled in vain and weeds crept in the graveyard, and her husband slept there lonely. It was so difficult to endure for her as if summer in the day and winter at night. And her only wish was to reunite with him after death.
People often go to sweep and weed graves with whole family and take a walk in the countryside as well. In Tang Dynasty, the habit of taking an excursion on this day was developed. At this time, spring returns and dominates the earth again. The feel of growing life is in the air, with sap ascending in trees and buds bursting. And the willow branches inserted on each gate add vigor and vitality to the surroundings. But it actually means more than that. This custom can be traced back to over one thousand years ago.
During the Period of Spring and Autumn in the Jin Kingdom, one of the King's sons was called Chong Er. Jealous of his talent, a concubine falsely accused him of rebellion to make her son the crown prince. He had no choice but to flee and with him were some officials. They hid themselves in a mountain and went hungry for quite some time. An official named Jie Zitui took great pain to cut some flesh from his thigh and cooked it for Chong Er. When the fact was known the young master was moved to tears and knelt down in gratitude. And Jie replied his best repayment should be a just king. They lived a life of hunger and cold for three years until the evil concubine died. Many soldiers were sent to look for him and to escort him back home. Going into the carriage, he saw an official packed an old mat onto a horse, he said laughingly, 'What on earth is the use of that? Throw it away!' Jie Zitui heard it and sighed, 'It is hardship that can be shared with his majesty but not prosperity.' So he went away quietly and lived in seclusion with his old mother.
As Chong Er became king, he rewarded many people but he forgot Jie Zitui. He did not realize it until was reminded. However his invitation was refused and he flared up. Soldiers were ordered to burn up the mountain to force Jie to come out. Finally they found Jie and his mother scorched under a willow. He would rather die than yield to the power. Chong Er was so overwhelmed with regret that he ordered people hold memorial ceremony for Jie. So every year on that day folks mourned for him and the day before ate cold meals, which avoided making fire. Later the custom of inserting willow branches on gates was also added.