Culture Corner: 清明时节雨纷纷

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author photoToday on the Skritter blog we’ll be exploring a phrase that is both culturally and seasonally relevant, Du Mu‘s opening line from his poem “清明” (Qīngmíng: Tomb Sweeping Festival); a time for people to go out and enjoy the greenery of springtime and pay respects to their ancestors by “sweeping the tombs” and offering food, paper money, and other gifts. For a great article on the holiday, which falls on April 4th this year, be sure to check out the recent article on The World of Chinese blog. For now, however, let’s take a look at the famous opening line:

清明時節雨紛紛/ 清明时节雨纷纷 
qīngmíng shíjié yŭ fēnfēn


1. 清明 (qīng míng): Tomb Sweeping Day

2. 時節/ 时节 (shí jié): season; time; occasion
3. 雨 (yǔ): rain
4. 紛紛/ 纷纷 (fēnfēn): one after another; in succession
1. A drizzling rain falls on the Mourning Day (Wikipedia)
2. Pure Brightness time rain disordered and confused (Chinese-Poems)
3. At the time of the Pure Brightness festival, the rain is swirling round (Chinese-Poems)
4. In Qingming season it rains fine and fast (Cultural China)
5. Rain keeps falling during the Qingming season (FluentU)

As you can see there is no shortage of translations and interpretations for Du Mu‘s opening line, but one thing is clear throughout–the poem takes place around Tomb Sweeping Festival, and it’s raining. When I first learned this poem back in 2008 I didn’t pay much attention to what the weather was like during Tomb Sweeping Festival, but the past week of on and off rain has certainly got my attention.

What really surprised me, however, was a conversation I had over breakfast the other day. It had been raining all morning and it was quite cold (at least by Taiwan standards). As I sipped my morning coffee, with both hands searching for warmth from my cup, I expressed my disapproval with the cold dreary morning when the person setting across from me said: “清明时节雨纷纷,” a subtle reminder that it’s the spring festival season… it’s going to rain!

After that morning conversation, I’ve heard the opening line of the poem reference at least 2 times in passing, and used it a few times myself. So language learners, take a note from Du Mu’s playbook and every time that Tomb Sweeping Festival rolls around and it’s (inevitably) raining, use this opening line and show off your Chinese talent!

For those of you aren’t familiar with the poem, check out the picture below. Thanks for reading, and stay tuned for next weeks post!

Image Credit: 中國反邪教網

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