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Romance, ghosts and sports (2)

By Cang Wei and Song Wenwei (China Daily)

12:15, April 04, 2013

Children dressed in traditional costumes during a cuju match to welcome the Qingming Festival in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, in March 2012. Cuju is an ancient ball game originated in China. Xia Yan / For China Daily

In China, presenting a twig of willow to another person is also a way of expressing that you want them to stay. The word for willow is liu in mandarin, the same as the word for stay, although they are pronounced with different tones.

South of the Yangtze River, babies born on Tomb Sweeping Day were considered to be the cleverest, as Qingming literally means clear and bright in Chinese, so the babies born on the day were considered to be gifted with intelligence.

Families with small kids would usually ask their neighbors for food during the Qingming Festival, as it was believed this would bring health and good luck to the kids.

With the warmer spring weather, people would gather outside and enjoy picnics and performances, although they would only eat cold food as a way of showing their respect for the dead. One of China's most renowned paintings Along the River During Qingming Festival by Zhang Zeduan of the Northern Song Dynasty (AD960-1127) depicts people enjoying a day out along the river at Bianliang, then the ancient capital city.

People also participated in various sports, including shooting the willow, playing cuju and cockfights. Shooting the willow was first invented to improve archery skills. According to material from the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), people first put pigeons into gourds before tying them on top of a willow tree. Several people then shot the gourds with bows and arrows, which would free the pigeons inside when they fell onto the ground. The winner was the one whose pigeon flew the highest on its release.

Cuju, is an ancient sport with a history of 2,300 years, which was originally used to train warriors. The character cu refers to kicking with feet, while ju means a leather ball filled with feathers. Cuju was especially popular during the Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907) and the Song Dynasty (AD 960-1279). One of China's most famous literary masterpieces, The Water Margin, contains descriptions of the nobles, including the emperor, playing cuju together.

And during the Yuan, Ming and Qing dynasties (1271-1911) the Qingming Festival was also known as the swinging festival, as it was a popular pastime at this time of year because of the pleasant weather and swinging competitions were held across the country. The one who swung the highest and with the most beautiful and difficult movements would win the competition.

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