Honouring ancestors: Exploring the deep-rooted traditions of Qing Ming festival

This year the Qing Ming festival falls on 4 April.

Traditionally the Qing Ming festival is when people honour the deceased by cleaning the tombs and offering fresh flowers.

Some opt to carry out rituals like burning objects made from paper and offering food and incense.

How did it all begin?

The Qing Ming Festival, originates from the Cold Food or Hanshi Festival, which commemorates Jie Zitui’s loyalty to Duke Wen during the Spring and Autumn Period.

Jie was so loyal that he fed his own flesh to Duke Wen to cure his hunger when they were exiled.

Tragedy stuck when Duke Wen tried to seek out Jin who retired for advice by attempting to burn down the forest where Jie reside after listening to his retainers.

Duke Wen, filled with regret, instituted three days of solemn remembrance without any fires, the day he died was named Hanshi which marked the beginning of the Hanshi Festival.

The next year, while paying respects at Jie’s grave, he stumbled upon a thriving willow tree, which he dubbed the “Qingming willow.”

The day following this event was officially recognized as the “Hanshi Qingming Festival. Eventually, recognizing the similarities and significance of both festivals, they were merged into one.

During the reign of Emporer Xuanzong (712–756 AD) in the Tang Dynasty (618–907 AD), the festival has undergone a revamp. Seeking to curtail extravagant ancestral ceremonies, he decreed in 732 AD that such tributes could occur only once annually on Qingming Day.

This tradition persists today.


Different people have different ways of honouring their ancestors.

During Qing Ming, various clan associations in Selangor and Kuala Lumpur participate in traditional rituals.

Lion dances by the Selangor and Kuala Lumpur Ka Yin Association, while the Selangor and Kuala Lumpur Char Yong Association offers fragrant rice.

Other associations, like the Selangor and Kuala Lumpur Teochew Association and Kwang Tong Clan Association, offer prosperity cakes symbolizing wealth, according to Kwong Tong Cemetery (KTC) Kuala Lumpur Qing Ming 2024 committee head Ng Kwee Heng.

While different people honour their ancestors differently one group decided to push boundaries with their approach.

Three young individuals took a different approach to “commemorate” Qing Ming. They were captured dancing to the music of “Chou Xing Chi” by Malaysian YouTubers Steady Gang in front of tombstones in a viral Facebook video titled “Young people doing tomb sweeping,” shared by user Ryan Soo on March 30.

“Times have changed,” Ryan Soo can only simply remarked in the Facebook post featuring the video.

The video had Gartner 2k views and 1.2k comments.

“The lack of respect young people show towards their ancestors nowadays is disheartening,” said one Facebook user named Lan Mei.

“At night, when their ancestors sweep them with broom, only then they will know,” said another Facebook user named Ckfatt Chen.

The video didn’t reveal the location of the grave, nor the fact that whether the grave dancers were related to the deceased who lie peacefully in their grave.

Nevertheless, the deceased are unequivocally entitled to respect. Their toil and contributions to society are undeniable.