Solar Terms is a calendar of twenty-four periods and climate to govern agricultural arrangements in ancient China and functions even now. As we have mentioned the Chinese calendar is a lunisolar calendar, it takes into account the longest and the shortest days and the two days each year when the length of the day equals that of the night. In other words, the significant days are the Summer and Winter Solstices and the Spring and Autumn Equinoxes.
Today the year comprises 24 Solar Terms. During the Shang Dynasty they only used four; the Zhou Dynasty (11th century BC – 221BC), used eight; but it was in the Western Han Dynasty (206BC – 24) that the 24 terms were finally decided upon.
These solar terms have meaningful titles. Some of them reflect the change of seasons such as the Beginning of Spring, the Beginning of Summer, the Beginning of Autumn, and the Beginning of Winter; some embody the phenomena of climate like the Waking of Insects (Jing Zhe), Pure Brightness (Qing Ming), Lesser Fullness of Grain (Xiao Man) and Grain in Beard (Mang Zhong); and some indicate the change of climate like Rain Water (Yu Shui), Grain Rain (Gu Yu), Lesser Heat (Xiao Shu), Greater Heat (Da Shu), and so on.
These Twenty-Four solar terms each suggest the position of the Sun every time it travels15 degrees on the ecliptic longitude. In each month there are often two solar terms; the first one is generally named ‘Jie Qi’ and the other one ‘Zhong Qi’. Their dates are mirrored by the Gregorian calendar, so we find that during the first half of a year ‘Jie Qi’ is around the 6th day of a solar month, ‘Zhong Qi’ around the 21st; in the second half of a year, ‘Jie Qi’ is around the 8th and ‘Zhong Qi’ around the 23rd.
The Twenty-four Solar Terms in 2013
|Lesser Cold (Xiao Han)||Jan.||5th||It is rather cold|
|Greater Cold (Da Han)||Jan.||20th||The coldest moment of a year|
|The Beginning of Spring (Li Chun)||Feb.||4th||Spring begins|
|Rain Water (Yu Shui)||Feb.||18th||It begins to rain|
|The Waking of Insects (Jing Zhe)||Mar.||5th||Hibernating animals come to sense|
|The Spring Equinox (Chun Fen)||Mar.||20th||Day and night are equally long|
|Pure Brightness (Qing Ming)||Apr.||4th||It is warm and bright|
|Grain Rain (Gu Yu)||Apr.||20th||Rainfall is helpful to grain|
|The Beginning of Summer (Li Xia)||May||5th||Summer begins|
|Lesser Fullness of Grain (Xiao Man)||May||21st||Kernels plump|
|Grain in Beard (Mang Zhong)||Jun.||5th||Wheat grows ripe|
|The Summer Solstice (Xia Zhi)||Jun.||21st||It has the longest daytime and the shortest night of the year|
|Lesser Heat (Xiao Shu)||Jul.||7th||Torridity comes|
|Greater Heat (Da Shu)||Jul.||22nd||The hottest moment of a year|
|The Beginning of Autumn (Li Qiu)||Aug.||7th||Autumn begins|
|The End of Heat (Chu Shu)||Aug.||23rd||Heat hides|
|White Dew (Bai Lu)||Sep.||7th||Dew curdles|
|The Autumn Equinox (Qiu Fen)||Sep.||22nd||The mid of autumn|
|Cold Dew (Han Lu)||Oct.||8th||Dew is very cold|
|Frost’s Descent (Shuang Jiang)||Oct.||23rd||Frost descends|
|The Beginning of Winter (Li Dong)||Nov.||7th||Winter begins|
|Lesser Snow (Xiao Xue)||Nov.||22nd||it begins to snow|
|Greater Snow (Da Xue)||Dec.||7th||It snows heavily|
|The Winter Solstice (Dong Zhi)||Dec.||22nd||The shortest daytime and the longest night of a year|
The Winter Solstice indicates the period of winter and people always want to keep themselves warm. In the Northern China where the weather can be bitterly cold, their ancestors lacked sufficient warm clothing and would eat hot food to keep warm. Gradually there came a saying that only by eating dumplings can you avoid becoming so frozen that your ears drop off. Thus this custom is still widespread and on that day they eat steaming hot and delicious dumplings. In China there is a custom of counting nine (‘Shu Jiu’), that is, from the Winter Solstice people calculated the number of days until a change of climate came about. Usually nine days is a section, there are a total of nine sections from the first Jiu to the ninth Jiu. In the folklore there is a widely prevailing ballad the general meaning of which is that: in the first and second Jiu (a section of nine days), they can’t take their hands outside; in the third and fourth Jiu they walk on the ice; in the fifth and sixth Jiu they see the light green willow; in the seventh Jiu – river thaws and in the eighth swallows come; in the ninth cattle begin to work.
The Beginning of Summer will bring abundant rain and lead directly to the harvest. Thus an agricultural adage is that ‘no rain, no rice’ and ‘no rain, we will hang up the hoe.’ In imperial China the emperors would perform a special rite to greet summer on that day. As the hot weather would cause people to lose weight and become exhausted it became the custom to weigh and drink tea as this was considered a guard against the torrid weather.
The Beginning of Spring symbolizes the start of a lunar year and warmer weather. Looking forward to good fortune and smoothly running business, people used to eat radishes believing that they would generate calm. This may be because of their effect to soothe the stomach.
Pur brightness is a moment of importance for it is the day on which to worship ancestors. Many poets have written works on the theme of that day. It is also called ‘Cold Food Festival’ as on that day cooking is forbidden and all are allowed to eat only cold food, for fear of being chastised by the immortals in heaven. Around Pure Brightness, there is often a lot of rain, thus it is a crucial time in agriculture to plant grain or trees.
Greater Snow is the day around which we will have dancing snow. The scenery is extremely charming. For farmers heavy snow foretells a good harvest and so is regarded as auspicious. In China there is a saying that ‘a timely snow promises a good harvest’. Thus you can see how welcome the snow is.
Heavenly stems and earthly branches:
Ancient Chinese people had the skill to calculate the history of five thousands years and record the chronological sequence of events. They invented a measurement by two sets of signs in a certain sequence – Heavenly Stems and Earthly Branches.
The Heavenly Stems indicate 10 circulatory signs-jia,yi,bing,ding,wu,ji,geng,xin,ren,gui.
Earthly Branches can be used to count time of years, months and hours. When counting years, people use them with the 12 Chinese zodiacs and strictly one Earthly Branch corresponds to one fixed zodiac.
The Earthly signs indicate 12 circulatory signs-zi,chou,yin,mao,chen,si,wu,wei,shen,you,xu,hai