Translation by Leslie Bai and John Digby

The Chinese celebrated the Cold Food Festival for more than 2,600 years, and because of that, China accumulated a profound cold food culture. The Tang Dynasty produced nearly 300 poems about the Cold Food Festival. Emperor Xuanzong (685-762) of the Tang Dynasty issued an edict that designated the Cold Food Festival a national holiday.
The Festival rituals were observed with great sincerity by the emperors and their courts as well as by people in remote villages, where “acquaintances are rarely seen” and even “chickens and dogs forget to return home”. — Hong Ai Bai

COLD FOOD FESTIVAL

DU FU

I am on the road to a river village
and it’s Cold Food Festival

Flowers are whirling and spinning in the wind
faint smoke curls up from the river bank as
sunlight breaks through mottling the bamboo

All the village fathers labor in their fields
wishing to be finished with work
in order to observe the festival rites

Their neighbors are in the same frame of mind

In such remote dwellings acquaintances are rarely seen

This place is so laid-back even the
chickens and dogs forget to return home

 

Han Hong notes the imperial custom on the Cold Food Day, begun by Han-Dynasty emperors, of sending lighted candles to the rich and powerful, who were thus allowed to ignore the ban on fire.

The emperor who read this poem was flattered to think that the poet appreciated his special kindness to privileged officials. However, the common people understood the poem as an expression of complaints against government and sympathy with the poor. — Hong Ai Bai

COLD FOOD FESTIVAL

HAN HONG

Here at the capital Chang’an “Perpetual Peace”
spring willow catkins are blown everywhere

At the Cold Food Festival an East Wind
vigorously shakes the branches

Candles are delivered at dusk solely
to the Emperor’s quarters for light

A few smoking tapers are burning
for the privileged hierarchy

 

At the time of the Cold Food Festival, which falls in spring with beautiful weather, the sky becomes clearer and buds sprout in the field. Farmers sow various seeds and supply water to their rice paddies.
In the Tang and the Song dynasties, the Cold Food Festival and Qingming Festival provided a good time for fun, games and parties. People in the Song dynasty even claimed that “the best festival in the world is the Cold Food.”
Drinking wine and viewing the flowers of spring were part of the celebration of Cold Food Days. Traditional practiced activities during the Cold Food Festival include the visitation of ancestral tombs, playing on swings, tug-of-war, and other games.
— Hong Ai Bai

COLD FOOD FESTIVAL

WANG YUCHENG

This year I spent Cold Food Festival
at Shangshan mountain

The craggy landscape was
somewhat dreary but nevertheless the
plum blossoms attracted butterflies and
moths later in the evening

There were folks loafing among the trees
and others enjoying themselves
on the swings having a fun time

I noticed how green the grasslands were
after a heavy first rainfall

The deep lane was empty
this spring weather was a little chilly
and then it occurred to me how
sincerely everything was observed
this day for I saw no fires alight

And I—an expelled nameless official—
was idling without a care in the world
without a trace of resentment
when it suddenly struck me
I can make a little extra money
for my drinking habit writing
tomb epitaphs for the recently departed

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