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The Origin and Custom of Qingming Festival

Clear and Bright (Qingming) is one of the 24 solar terms in China. Since the 24 solar terms objectively reflected various aspects of temperature, rainfall and phenology changes in the four seasons throughout the whole year. The laboring people in ancient times used them to guide the arrangement of farming activities. The solar term is closely related to farming activities. Qingming Festival, also known as Spring-outing Festival, March Festival, Ancestor Worship Festival, Tomb-sweeping Festival, Grave Sweeping Festival, Ghost festival, etc., together with the Zhongyuan Festival on the 15th of the seventh lunar month, and the Hanyi Festival on the 1st of October, are called three famous Ghost Festivals in China. Qingming Festival was listed in the first batch of national intangible cultural heritage items in 2006.

The origin of Qingming Festival

Qingming Festival originated from the rites for ancestor-worshipping in spring in ancient times, beginning in Zhou Dynasty with a history of more than 2000 years. At first, Clear and Bright (Qingming) was a very important solar term, later, as the time of Qingming Festival closing to Hanshi Festival, both gradually became one. The customs of Qingming Festival include tomb sweeping and offering sacrifices to ancestors, fire prohibition, eating cold food, spring-outing, tree-planting, kite-flying, willow-planting, chicken-fighting, willow-shooting, playing Cuju (a game of kicking a ball in ancient times), Silkworm Temple Fair, etc. Among them, tomb sweeping, fire prohibition and eating cold food were originally the customs of Hanshi Festival. Hanshi Festival originated mainly as a way to commemorate Jie Zitui, a Han aristocrat who served the Jin prince Chong’er during the Spring and Autumn Period in Chinese history. Because Hanshi Festival and Qingming Festival are integrated into one, so are the customs of the two festivals.

The period of Qingming Festival

Among the 24 solar terms, Clear and Bright (Qingming) is the only one that is a solar term and a festival at the same time. Qingming Festival falls around April 5 of the Gregorian calendar, which is also a good time for people to have a spring outing in bright spring days with green trees.

Qingming Festival Custom: Sweep the tombs

The customs in Qingming Festival refer to the custom of worshiping ancestors around that day. The custom of worshiping ancestors and mourning dead relatives continues to be prevalent in Chinese culture. Tomb sweeping, commonly known as going to the grave, is an activity of offering sacrifices to the dead. Most of the Han people and some ethnic minorities sweep tombs on Tomb Sweeping Day. According to the old customs, when sweeping tombs, people should bring wine, fruits, paper money and other items to the cemetery, offering food to their relatives’ graves, burning paper money, cultivating new soil for the graves, folding a few green branches to insert them on the graves, and then kowtowing to worship. These customs are still popular today as a way to commemorate our ancestors, carefully attend to the funeral rites of parents and follow them when gone with due sacrifices; to cherish our martyrs, look forward to the days to come, and create a happy future together.

Qingming Festival Custom: Spring-outing

Spring-outing is also called touring in spring, also called exploring spring, looking for spring in ancient times. According to the solar calendar, Qingming Festival comes between April 4 and 6 every year. It’s a festival with beautiful flowers and green trees, full of lively energy and vitality. After a dull winter, people are in urgent need of mental adjustment. It is the best time for people to wander in a clear, bright, sunny day with gentle breeze. The habit of spring-outing on Qingming Festival has kept for a long time in our country.

Qingming Festival Customs: Making Sachets

At the time of the Qingming Festival, spring will have returned in most parts of China. The sky is clear and bright with everything reviving, temperature rising slowly, which is likely to make people restless. The ancients used to pack aromatic herbs and spices in delicate sachets during the Qingming Festival. The elegant and mild fragrance with cool feeling can calm people down, relieve and soothe the fidgetiness at the end of spring.


Author: Maggie Wang

Mengjuan Wang graduated from Beijing Dance Academy with a Master’s degree specializing in the basic theory of dance. Her research focused on the Long Sleeve Dance of the Han Dynasty depictions. She previously volunteered as a teacher in Xinjiang Province, China, and she is now one of the dance and performance artistic Teaching Assistants at Goldsmiths Confucius Institute. She hopes more and more people can understand and appreciate China’s cultural and artistic heritage.




Styles of Erhu Tunes

Erhu, or erh-hu, is one of the most prevalent instruments in Chinese folk music. The prototype of erhu was a bowed, stringed accompaniment along with other traditional Chinese stringed and woodwind instruments as well as percussion and wind instruments in Jiangnan China over the Qing Dynasty and the early years of the Chinese Republic. Liu Tianhua (1895-1932) upgraded erhu into a solo instrument. The design of erhu was finalised after the founding of the PRC, as it was produced in state-owned instrument manufacturers in the context of the planned economy. According to Liu Tianhua, huqin was another name of erhu in the Republic of China (1912-1949). Nanhu was also used for calling erhu before the Liberalisation in 1949. Therefore, the concept of erhu in general research is circumscribed within erhu as a sole instrument in modern Chinese history.

The regional and ethnic variations in China breed the diversity of artistic styles. The regional music style plays an essential role in the development of erhu performance over the past hundred years. The style originates from life but is higher than life; it has simple folk customs and is closely related to regional culture and local customs. China has a vast territory and many nationalities. Each place has its own dialect, folk song and local opera. Due to the differences in climate, soil and other natural conditions, as well as diet, habits, local customs and other factors, a robust musical style comes into being. The characteristics of erhu style are mainly reflected in the music works infused by different regional styles and artistic forms. The musical style is a comprehensive concept, encompassing rhythm, tone, timbre, dynamics and structure.

Therefore, understanding the regional culture and musical connotation in significant source areas of erhu tunes is key to appreciate erhu.

Erhu tunes in Jiangnan Style

Jiangnan Sizhu has a long history of development, and has absorbed and carried the rich influence of many operas, folk arts and music genres in the south of the Yangtze River during its development, so that Jiangnan Sizhu has become a folk music genre within Jiangnan cultural heritage and high performance level. It has become the closest relative of erhu and the carrier that directly supplies erhu nutrition. Jiangnan music requires the erhu to play a sweet and soft timbre, and the inherent timbre of the erhu instrument itself is the material basis for the timbre needed to play Jiangnan music. On this basis, through the unique performance techniques of various Jiangnan music from left and right hands, it can make Jiangnan Erhu music full of strong Jiangnan music flavor.

Erhu tunes in Northern Shaanxi Style

Because northern Shaanxi is located on a plateau with a large area and sparsely populated areas, communication is inconvenient, so people often communicate with each other in the way of “screaming” without the slightest ambiguity and softness. The music melody in northern Shaanxi has a lot of fluctuations and often uses four-degree jumps into the interval. The musical personality is impulsive and straightforward, which also makes the music of northern Shaanxi feel free and easy and crude. The music bred on this land has inherited the unrestrained, simple and unrestrained characteristics of the Loess Plateau, which makes the Erhu in northern Shaanxi possess the same style and characteristics.

Erhu tunes in Xinjiang Uyghur style

Turpan Uyghur folk songs adopt three major music systems of East Asia, West Asia and Europe, and the content is very rich, among which music and dance are particularly prominent.  Its melody has three main characteristics: First, the rhythm is diverse.The second is that most of them have non-square structure, the melody is stretchable, the phrases are more irregular, and the lengths are different.  The third is rich in modes, frequent alternation, mostly seven-tone scales.  Comprehensive analysis shows that the artistic form of Turpan Uyghur folk songs fully embodies the Uyghur nationality, cultural traditions and national spirit; it reflects the history, social life and spiritual outlook of the nation, and is a concentrated expression of the cultural exchanges between the East and the West.

Erhu tunes in Inner Mongolia style

Inner Mongolia has lived in the vast grassland for a long time, and the free nomadic life has made Grassland Music its own unique music style. The rhythm is free and the melody is comfortable. Erhu music in Inner Mongolia is often borrowed from local musical instruments. Matouqin’s tone and technique use minor thirds vibrato, big slide, as well as horseshoe-like music rhythms and erhu bow throwing techniques to express this rhythm, and the swaying music melody and playing techniques on the horse’s back to express the unique charm of music.

Through the understanding of different music styles, the player can process the music more accurately when learning the music, and it can also enable the player to use the performance techniques more flexibly and accurately, and more appropriately express the music styles of different regional styles.

Li Wen graduated from Sichuan Conservatory of Music, Chengdu, Sichuan, China. (Sep. 2016 – June 2020)- Master of Arts in Chinese Instrument (Erhu).

In 2019, the performer Li Wen served as a teacher assistant of Goldsmiths Confucius Institute for Dance and Performance, University of London for one year. During her stay in the UK, she has done a lot of instrumental music teaching and performance activities. She is currently conducting online Erhu teaching courses at Goldsmiths Confucius Institute for Dance and Performance, University of London and takes part in our outreach activities.


Qin – an instrument with a history

Qin or Gu Qin is a very traditional music instrument in China with nearly 3000 year-long history. In China, when we talk about Qin, we naturally connect it with the ancient Literati class – the prestigious intellectual group of scholar-officials. To some extent, Qin is the representative of this class and it also endows this beautiful instrument with some insightful meanings.

At the beginning, Qin had only 5 strings, which corresponded to the 5 elements in Chinese culture: Gold(Jin), Wood(Mu), Water(Shui), Fire(Huo) and Earth(Tu). Later, during the Zhou Dynasty, the Emperor Wen( Zhou Wenwang) and then Emperor Wu (Zhou Wuwang) added two stings to the 5-stringed Qin. Since then, the Qin has 7 strings until today.

When we look at the body of Qin we find an arch-shaped upper side under the strings and a flat baseplate. This is a reflection of Chinese Tianyuan Difang philosophy, literally meaning that the sky is round and the earth is square. Therefore, the upper side of the Qin represents the round sky, and the flat square baseplate references the earth.

Some of you may be familiar with a famous Chinese music piece called Gaoshan Liushui, High Mountain and Flowing Water in English. Behind this beautiful piece there’s a touching story about friendship.

Back in the Spring and Autumn period (770-476 B.C.), there was a brilliant Qin playing master named Boya Yu. One day he was playing in a wild field. A woodman called Ziqi Zhong happened to be passing by, and when he heard the music, he felt moved and immediately said: ‘magnificent like great mountains, mighty like flowing rivers!’. Boya was surprised by how much this man understood him and soon after that they became very close friends. That’s how the piece Gaoshan Liushui was created. After Ziqi passed away, Boya believed no one could ever understand him as well, so he destroyed his Qin and never played again.

Of course, they are so many other wonderful pieces and stories about Qin. If you are interested, we can write about them next time.

Author: Yuting Jiang

Yuting has been playing Zheng since the age of 7. Graduated from Xi’an Conservatory of Music in 2018, she now studies at Minzu University of China as a postgraduate, majoring in Historical Musicology with the focus on modern music of Western Countries. She also teaches Zheng in our short courses and participates in Goldsmiths Confucius Institute outreach activities.

The Spring Festival in China

On the occasion of the Spring Festival, I would like to share how we celebrate the Spring Festival in China.

First of all, how do we determine the date of the Spring Festival in China?

There are two ways to calculate time in China, the solar calendar and the lunar calendar. The solar calendar, or Gregorian calendar, which is the kind of calendar system used by most countries in the modern time. There are other calendars followed in different parts of the world. In China, the people observe the lunar calendar, called also the lunisolar calendar, Yin calendar or Xia calendar. Most of the Chinese holidays, such as the Qingming Festival, the Dragon Boat Festival, the Mid-autumn Festival, the Lantern Festival and the Spring Festival are calculated according to the lunar calendar.

Each time the moon aligns with the earth and the sun a new month begins. A regular lunar year has 12 months, however, in the same way the solar calendar adds a day every four years so to compensate any difference in the length of the earth’s travel around the sun, every two or three years the lunisolar calendar adds a 13th month – a leap month.


When is the Spring Festival?

The Spring Festival, commonly known as “Chinese New Year “, refers to a period of time. It is the most important traditional festival for the Chinese. It usually begins on the second new moon after the winter solstice, which falls between 20 January and 20 February of the solar calendar. On the evening of the 30th day of the last month in the lunar calendar, people stay up late and wait for the coming of the New Year. During the Spring Festival, people will go back to their hometowns to reunite with their parents and children, reflect on the past year’s experiences, celebrate the reunion of the family and look forward to the New Year.

What do we do during the Spring Festival?

During the Spring Festival, people would prepare wine, meat, and various kinds of dishes in advance. I am a girl from the north of China, where it’s a tradition to make steamed buns and date flowers during the Spring Festival. We also make dumplings shaped like silver ingots – a symbol of wealth.

The Spring Festival is also an occasion to make traditional decorations. We make couplets, Chinese knots, red lanterns and other red ornaments to decorate our house. People adorn their houses, and Chinese knots are hung in the streets. In the past, families on December 30 used to set off fireworks after twelve o ‘clock in the evening to welcome the New Year. Because smoke and noise released from fireworks pollute the environment, now most people in urban and rural areas forego on the real firecrackers, sometimes replacing it with electric ones.

The Spring Festival is also an occasion to make traditional decorations. We make couplets, Chinese knots, red lanterns and other red ornaments to decorate our house. People adorn their houses, and Chinese knots are hung in the streets. In the past, families on December 30 used to set off fireworks after twelve o ‘clock in the evening to welcome the New Year. Because smoke and noise released from fireworks pollute the environment, now most people in urban and rural areas forego on the real firecrackers, sometimes replacing it with electric ones.

Mengjuan Wang graduated from Beijing Dance Academy with a Master’s degree specializing in the basic theory of dance. Her research focused on the Long Sleeve Dance of the Han Dynasty depictions. She previously volunteered as a teacher in Xinjiang Province, China, and she is now one of the dance and performance artistic Teaching Assistants at Goldsmiths Confucius Institute. She hopes more and more people can understand and appreciate China’s cultural and artistic heritage.


New Beginnings: From Mandarin Chinese to Online Qigong

Image of Open Lake

Photo Credit: Emile Guillemot

Why on earth would anyone want to do this?!

Hello, my name is Ian, a retired Senior International Business Executive and Consultant with a very fulfilled life as a drummer (rock & African), motorcyclist, would-be guitarist, cook, movie-goer, director and dad. So, when I decided to try my hand at Mandarin, this was the question I really had to ask myself.

I already had a good life. I was loving being retired, so why would I want to bring some whole new levels of stress into my life?

The answer was obvious really. Although I’ve lived in China, have a lovely Chinese wife, and had just bought a house in Sanming (Fujian Province), my Mandarin skills were almost non-existent. This was something I knew I’d been putting off but really had to fix.

I scoured the internet looking for an introductory Mandarin course as I knew I would need the encouragement and discipline that goes with some formal teaching, and finally found Goldsmiths Confucius Institute Mandarin short courses. Eventually, I signed up, rather nervously!

Why nervously, you might rightly ask? Surely Goldsmiths has a great reputation as a centre of learning? Surely the courses they offer will be well-structured and taught? Well yes, of course, that is true, but I am 63, have no great language skills, and learning Chinese is extremely hard!

How do I know all this? Well, I live with my Chinese wife and daughter and they have routinely encouraged me in my efforts by laughing out loud and passing helpful comments like:

“Nobody in China is ever going to understand you.”

Not to mention, there is also the necessary element of learning of pinyin, tones and committing to memory thousands of Chinese characters.

My fears were later confirmed when I bumped into a group of senior university staff outside our classroom. They jovially asked what I had been doing. I explained I was trying to learn Mandarin, with their retort being:

“Don’t envy you that, learning Chinese is so bloody difficult!”

Now I think you understand, I knew this was going to be tough.

And truly, it was difficult at the start. I was the oldest and possibly the least experienced in our smallish Mandarin group class and, despite being a highly paid and nimble-minded businessman, the pace was just too much for me! So I talked to Confucius’ admin staff and agreed that a 1-1 course was probably more suitable for me, and they set this up in a few days so I didn’t lose out. It was very helpful.

This is where I met my teacher (老师 lǎoshī), and now friend, Chengmei Liang. She was everything that I needed in a Mandarin teacher. Warm, friendly, flexible and endlessly encouraging and patient. We agreed on the course materials we would use, set a sensible pace, and made the lessons as much fun as we could. We even shared a little Chinese tea to keep us going. It was a very civilised and very rewarding experience.

Image of student and teacher

Ian and Mandarin lecturer and Martial Arts instructor, Chengmei Liang

I know what you are thinking, she simply introduced me to basic Chinese and took it easy with me. I suppose that’s a little true. But it also misses the fact that she is also a Chinese martial arts graduate and teacher, so trust me, she is definitely not someone to mess with!

After two terms, and taking on additional business responsibilities, I decided I should lighten my load and ease my mind. I decided to suspend my Mandarin classes in favour of joining Goldsmiths Qigong short course (traditional and gentle healthy and spiritual martial arts exercises). I am so happy that I did; it hass been fantastic to relax both my body and mind with such a varied and friendly group of people.

Qigong students in class

Ian and his fellow Qigong short course students pose for a photo after class.

We’ve all been gently stretched and challenged as tranquil Chinese traditional music plays in the background. One and a half hours just flies by, and my strength, flexibility and balance have all improved as a result. Our next challenge, sadly brought about by Covid19’s quarantine, is to try and continue our classes remotely using Microsoft Teams so that we do not lose our momentum.

So there you have it. It was definitely worth it, and my thanks to Chengmei and Goldsmiths for making this journey possible and enjoyable.

I hope that my new found skills will allow and help me socialise more easily with family and locals whenever we ‘holiday’ in our new Chinese home! So please wish me/us well!

Image of student drumming

Ian practising one of his favourite pastimes, drumming.

Ian is a keen student, eager to learn new skills and take on new challenges. He is currently enrolled in Goldsmiths Confucius Institute Qigong short course and has also participated in the department’s Mandarin for Beginners and 1-1 Mandarin short courses.

From Italy to England – My Goldsmiths Story!

Student standing by Chinese Character

Hi everyone, I’m Francesco, well, that’s how my friends call me! 

I am a Short Course student at the Confucius Institute of Goldsmiths. I am currently studying for my PhD in History of Art and Territory at UNED University in Madrid, with a great passion for China and its culture.  

I’m going to tell you about my London experience. Why did I decide to study Chinese in London? Why at Goldsmiths Confucius Institute? 

Because I was sure to meet excellence, in people, in study, and I was sure to meet a stimulating environment, where the most different cultures meet and enrich themselves. A place where you feel the creativity and the passion for the arts.

In the last few years, Chinese language and culture have gone beyond borders, winning over many foreign students like me, attracted by the culture and the new economic dynamics of the country.

China and Chinese culture live in every capital, in every city and it is up to us to find it. London is a global city; the Confucius Institute is a Chinese department with a global dimension. English and Chinese language are the key to the future. That’s why I chose the Confucius Institute at Goldsmiths; to have the keys to tomorrow’s world.

I was fascinated by the quality of the teaching and facilities, and also by the philosophy of the college, which has counted many famous people among its students. What I found here is an inclusive and sociable environment, a true paradise for every student! Thanks to the HSK training course, I have been able to improve my Chinese level and I feel confident in signing up to the level 5 exam soon.

At Goldsmiths I also found a some other very interesting short courses, some of them focused on business, which I hope to combine in the future with work experience in this beautiful city, full of opportunities and quality of life.

Student in front of blossom tree

Francesco outside the Ben Pimlott building on Goldsmiths Campus

Francesco is from Bologna in Italy; he is currently a student of Goldsmiths HSK 5 Mandarin Training Short Course. He has a veritable thirst for knowledge; he gained a BA in History of Art from Bologna University, an MA in Chinese Studies from Pompeu Fabra University in Barcelona and an MA in Contemporary History from Complutense University of Madrid.

How I Learnt About Classical Economics through Chinese Philosophy

Image of Confucius Statue

Photo Credit: Rob Web (Flickr)

My name is Wasima and I am a student at Goldsmiths, University of London.

I took the Chinese Philosophy course in my second year of university; the module focused on Confucianism and Taoism.

As my undergraduate degree is in Economics I decided to venture out and try out a module in a different department in order to broaden my academic knowledge and uncover the links between Chinese philosophy and Economics. I found Confucianism – the way of life instilled in Chinese culture from the earliest centuries – to show a real connection to the principles of Economics.

Mencius, who was one of the Confucian disciples, was a major contributor to Confucian thought. He advocated for the division of labour; a process later coined by Adam Smith and stated that a skill set an individual possesses is that which they should practice.

Adam Smith is one of the forefathers of Classical Economics and it was valuable to understand that his school of thought actually appeared much earlier, during the era of Confucianism.

It was also interesting to understand how the Confucian culture is still important in modern society today – the topic of the assessment piece of this module. Writing this piece really helped me grasp the importance of Chinese Philosophy, as there is still so much relevance to it today.

Advocating for those who possess a certain skill to trade in that skill is still relevant today as qualifications obtained by individuals determine where they are employed within the labour market, as different qualifications and skills are suitable to specific sectors. Hence, this principle that allowed for success in the organisation of the Confucian state, has continued to be successful in society today.

Overall, it was a great module and helped me explore a different dimension during my degree.

Image of Goldsmiths Student Wasima

Goldsmiths student, Wasima

Wasima is currently studying her final year of her BA Economics degree with the Institute of Management Studies here at Goldsmiths. She took the optional contextual credit course module, Chinese Philosophy – Confucianism and Taoism, with Goldsmiths Confucius Institute in her second year.