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Hanshi - the Forerunner of Qingming

People will visit their ancestors' graves, sweep the tombs on Qingming Festival. However, in the ancient times, sweeping tombs is the activity of Hanshi(Cold Food)Festival, which was usually one day before the Qingming Festival. Since the date are so close, the two are blended into a unity during the Sui (581-618) and Tang (618-907) dynasties. 

Hanshi literally means cold food.It is said that during the Spring and Autumn Period(770 BC - 476 BC), Duke Xiao was the monarch of the state of Jin. His eldest son, Shen Sheng should have inherited the throne on the death of his father. But Duke Xiao wanted the son of his favorite concubine, Li Ji, to succeed him as the ruler of Jin. Later, Duke Xiao was murdered by Shen Sheng and he would have done the same to his second eldest son, Chong'er, But Chong'er got wind of this and fled.
For 19 long years, Chong'er and his entourage of loyal officials and servants wandered homeless. One day, Chong'er was actually starving and close to death. one of his most faithful followers, Jie Zitui, cut a slice of muscle from his own leg and served it to his master, thereby saving his life. Finally in 636 BC ,Chong'er managed to take the throne that was tightfully his and took the official title of Duke Wen of the state of Jin.
After becoming the ruler of the state, Chong'er decided to reward the officials who had stayed with him through his years of wandering. But he forgot about Jie Zitui who had sacrificed the flesh of his leg. Jie Zitui was heartbroken and went away. Later Chong'er remembered Jie Zitui's sacrifice and sent people to look for him. Eventually they found him. Chong'er went in person to apologize and ask him to return to the royal court. But Jie itui left them and went deep into the mountains, so no one could find him again. Someone advised Chong'er to set fire to the area in order to force Jie Zitui into the open, where he could be talked into returning to the comforts of life in the royal house. Chong'er took this advice. The fires raged for three days and Jie Zitui was found leaning against a large tree,carrying his old mother on his back. Both Jie Zitui and his mother were dead.
Chong'er was deeply saddened by this tragedy. He ordered that a temple be built in memory of his most loyal follower. he also ordered that no fires were allowed on the anniversary of Jie Zitui's death. So people had to eat their cold food on that day, or the day of Hanshi. In addition, people began to visit Jie Zitui's tomb and pay their respects to his memory.
It was not until the Qing Dynasty about 300 years ago that the practice of Hanshi or eating cold food was replaced by that of Qingming, which had now become an important occasion for people to offer sacrifices to their ancestors.

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