Provincial governments marked the return of the Ching Ming festival to the official holiday calendar with lavish ceremonies yesterday, while millions of people braved traffic jams to sweep the tombs of their forebears.
Ching Ming is a millennia-old festival during which the living pay tribute to their ancestors in a show of loyalty to family and tradition.
After repeated calls from academia and politicians, Beijing announced in November that it would become a national public holiday to help revive traditional culture, improve national cohesion and maintain stability amid growing discontent brought on by a widening wealth gap and rampant social injustice.
The mainland public and authorities observed the festival with great enthusiasm.
In Beijing, state media reported that more than 600,000 people visited the tombs of their forebears, a more than three-fold increase from the 189,000 people last year.
Shanghai authorities estimated that 250,000 people went to neighbouring cities to pay tribute.
One of the most vibrant celebrations yesterday was in Shaanxi , where students, musicians, city management and traffic control officers dressed up as court officials, trumpeters and flag-bearers from a Tang dynasty film set. The cast led a procession of thousands of mainland and overseas Chinese paying respect near Yanan to Huang Di, a mythical emperor considered the ancestor of all Chinese people.
Resident Zhang Qiuxia and her son spent 90 minutes riding a motorbike to the Huang Di mausoleum to watch the ceremony.
'I'm really happy that I can take my son along this year because he doesn't have to go to school,' Ms Zhang said. 'I think having today as a holiday is better than the May holiday. At least the children can learn about history.'
Shaanxi Vice-Governor Jing Junhai , however, complained that other places were mimicking them. 'With a growing fever for Chinese culture, a lot of places are organising [public worship on this day],' he said. 'But there are now too many of them and it's getting chaotic.'
Henan province said it would stage its own grand ceremony to pay tribute to Huang Di on Tuesday. While Shaanxi claims it is the emperor's resting place, Henan says it is home to his birthplace.