The 24 Solar Terms 二十四 节气 – Mystery Revealed

In Scotland, most people think of the year as divided into four seasons – Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter. The Chinese calendar is divided into 24 solar terms – the 24 seasons which indicate the changes in the climate, plant and animal life. It is based on the position of the earth in the earth’s orbit around the sun. Established in ancient times, the “24 solar terms” start with the Beginning of Spring (Lichun) and end with the Great Cold (Dahan), a cycle which continues every year. It is not only the time yardstick issued by successive regimes in old China, but also the compass guiding agricultural production and people’s daily life.  The picture above shows a snow scene in Qing Dynasty China and the picture below shows a winter scene of Dongzhi 冬至, the Beginning of Winter which falls this year on December 22.  More about the fascinating 24 solar terms is revealed below – you can read about each solar term and then start to observe the subtle changes at each stage of each season throughout the year…

  1. The Beginning of Spring: This is the beginning of the lunar year – the Spring Festival. In ancient times, people sacrificed to the god of spring on this day to pray for a good harvest and fortune in the upcoming year.
  2. The Rains: After the Beginning of Spring, the southeast wind begins to blow, and rain begins to increase. Chinese people tend to graft trees on this day as the rain is good for trees.
  3. The Waking of Insects: This is the time when the temperatures rise. Only after this day, farmers would start to sow wheat and people would take smoking wormwood grass around the four corners of their home to drive away snakes, insects, mosquitoes, rats and musty smells.
  4. The Spring Equinox: By this day, Spring is half over and wheat is growing more quickly. Farmers strengthen the management of the wheat field and apply fertilizer.
  5. Pure Brightness: Everything is cleaned and becomes bright on this day, and people go on spring outings and sweep tombs and offer sacrifices to remember their ancestors.
  6. Grain Rain: This is the last solar term of spring. Due to the volume of rain, it is a good time for planting. People plant sorghum, melons and beans around Grain Rain time.
  7. The Beginning of Summer: It is the turning point between spring and summer, and the plants sown in Spring have grown upright.
  8. Grain Full: This means that the seeds of summer crops start to be full but not yet mature.
  9. Grain in Ear: The summer crops like wheat are ready to harvest, summer sowing autumn crops like rice are supposed to be sown. Thus it is the busiest time of the year.
  10. The Summer Solstice: It is the longest day of the year in all parts of the northern hemisphere. On this day northerners would eat noodles and many southerners would worship their ancestors.
  11. Slight Heat: Slight heat means it starts to get hot, but the hottest days have not yet arrived. All the crops have entered the stage of vigorous growth and farmers need to strengthen the field management.
  12. Great Heat: In most areas of China, it is the hottest time of the year, and crops grow at the fastest rate. On this day, people drink special tea, put ginger in the sun to dry, burn a kind of fragant plant, and drink mutton soup to banish excessive heat.
  13. The Beginning of Autumn: It is the first solar term of autumn, and although it literally means the beginning of autumn, the “Autumn Tiger (after heat)”effect still occurs. This is the time of the ripening of the autumn harvesting crops.
  14. The Limit of Heat: It is the solar term that represents the transition of temperature from hot to cool.
  15. White Dew: As the weather gradually turns cool, dew will appear in the early morning on the ground and leaves. By this day, people would feel the obvious fall of temperature and thus know to protect the crops from freeze injury.
  16. The Autumnal Equinox: Like the Spring Equinox, day and night are equally long on this day, and it is the time for farmers to sow winter wheat and winter rice.
  17. Cold Dew: Dew on the ground is colder than that of the White Dew, and is likely to become frozen dew, so it is called cold dew. This is the transition of the climate from cool to cold.
  18. Frost’s Descent: “Frost`s Descent” means that the weather is getting colder and frost is beginning to fall. The earlier the first frost comes, the greater the damage it does to crops. People should pay attention to their health.
  19. The Beginning of Winter: All the autumn crops should be dried and stored in the storehouse, and the animals have gone into hibernation. Farmers should hurry up to sow winter wheat. Forest fire prevention work should also be put on the agenda.
  20. Slight Snow: The temperature drops, gradually falling below 0℃, but the earth has not yet reached very cold temperatures. Although it begins to snow, the snow is not big. Therefore this time is called Slight Snow.
  21. Great Snow: The weather gets colder and it is more likely for snow to fall. According to an old saying “A timely heavy snow promises a good harvest”, so if it snows heavily at the time of Great Snow, farmers would have a good harvest later.
  22. The Winter Solstice: The ancients believed that from the Winter solstice, the Yang energy of heaven and earth began to grow stronger and stronger, representing the beginning of the next cycle. Therefore, people worship gods and ancestors on this day. The northerners would usually eat savoury dumplings while the southerners would normally eat sweet dumplings.
  23. Slight Cold
  24. Great Cold: Slight cold and Great cold are supposed to be the coldest times of the year. Although it is the slack season for farming, people are quite busy preparing for the Spring Festival during these two solar terms.