Welcome to the Culture Corner
Welcome back to the Culture Corner with Tao Jones. If you’re new to the Culture Corner, this is a little column that is your guide to the world. It’s great to be a hero, but if you don’t understand what it is you’re trying to save, then it’s a little harder to appreciate it. That’s what I’m here for. Each column, I’m going to take a part of Chinese culture in our games and explain it in a little more depth.
The Qingming Festival
Now, here’s a piece of Chinese culture that you’ve probably never even heard of. Qingming Festival? What’s that? Well, it’s a Chinese holiday that occurs around April. In 2011, it begins on April 5th, and lasts for three days. During this time, people journey to their ancestor’s graves from all around and offer their respects.
One curious thing about the Qingming Festival is that it actually always takes place concurrently with a second holiday known as the Cold Food Festival. The general gist of the Cold Food Festival is that no one is allowed to light any fires, so all food has to be eaten cold. This may sound like a weird basis for a holiday, and you’d be right. It does, however, have a reason for existing in the first place.
The Cold Food Festival
As the story goes, a long time ago, a man of noble birth named Chong’er found himself in a great deal of trouble. China had not yet been unified yet, so he found himself on the run a lot as the various warring states made life very dangerous. One time, he ran out of food and couldn’t get more, so he began to starve. His advisor and friend, Jiè Zh?tu?, somehow managed to offer him some soup. Grateful that his life was saved, he ate up the soup and recovered his strength, but he was more than a little curious about where his friend got the meat. He asked, and Jie admitted that he cut the meat out of his own thigh to make the soup. Rather than be creeped out and induce vomiting, Chong’er was instead moved by his friend’s loyalty and sacrifice and promised to pay him back someday.
Eventually, Chong’er succeeded his father and became known as Duke Wen. On the day of his ascendance, however, Jie Zhitui could not be found. He had run off, not wanting to get involved with politics and potentially shady characters. Duke Wen was insistent on rewarding his longtime companion, however, and organized a search effort and discovered that Jie was hiding on a mountain. Unable to persuade him to come out, he set fire to the mountain in order to force Jie out. Instead, Jie burned to death, and Duke Wen, consumed with guilt, declared a holiday in memorial of his friend. On this day, the lighting of fires was to be prohibited.
That’s a depressing story, isn’t it? Well, if it makes you feel better, it’s just a story, just like the reasons behind many other old holidays. People eat hot food if they want to, but it’s just in the spirit of the holiday to eat it cold, and how much cooking these days involves actual fire, anyway?