Thursday, 23 March 2017

When's Cheng Beng (清明)?

Over the past one week, I've been receiving messages from friends asking me about the date of this year's Cheng Beng (清明) festival, as if I'm an expert on such things, which I can assure you that I'm not. But they weren't the only ones inquiring. I've been hearing other people ask whether Cheng Beng would fall on the fourth or fifth of April. The usual reply I know is that this Chinese festival will fall on the fifth of April except when it is a leap year in the Gregorian calendar. The extra day on 29th February would push Cheng Beng day forward to the fourth of April.

But apparently not. Intrigued by my friends' request, I've made some investigations and discovered - lo and behold! - that Cheng Beng falling on the fourth of April actually occurs quite regularly. Does that mean that most of us may have been going to the graveyards to pay respects to our ancestors on the wrong date 25 percent of the time? Oops!

For example, if you have suffered a bereavement in your family, you are required to visit the deceased person's grave on Cheng Beng day itself for three consecutive years. After that, you can do your Cheng Beng visitations anytime within a 19-day period: 10 days before Cheng Beng to 10 days after Cheng Beng, with the Cheng Beng date being counted as Day One itself.

The last time that I had to observe Cheng Beng at the Batu Gantong cemetery on the exact date itself (4th April 2016) was the third anniversary of my aunt's death last year. Before that, it was on 5th April 2015 and 5th April 2014, both exactly the dates for Cheng Beng in those two years. So I'm safe; I haven't been wrong. I haven't gone one day late to Cheng Beng. Bless my aunt. Phew!

Anyhow, I've prepared a table of actual Cheng Beng dates for the next 15 years. The trend is easily ascertainable from the chart: two years of Cheng Beng on 4th April followed by two years on 5th April, and it repeats. The time shown in the third column is based on the apparent movement of the sun as it crosses the 15th-degree celestial longitude into the fifth solar term of the Chinese lunisolar calendar. You can read about the lunisolar calendar here. Happy learning!

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