The Ancient Chinese Wisdom (I) – The Twenty-Four Solar Terms

The Chinese culture has been inherited for more than two thousand years and has brought up great wisdoms in everyday life.  The Chinese lunar calendar 农历 (Nónglì) is one of the most distinctive wisdoms based on the Chinese observation toward the sun and the moon.

However, the lunar calendar 农历 (Nónglì) does not precisely reflect the regulation of the sun.  In order to solve some agricultural problems, ancient Chinese farmers had to discover another regulation of the Earth and used it as the supplement of the lunar calendar.  Just like how the ancestors made the lunar calendar, the ancient Chinese farmers had discovered the regulation of the sun and then framed out a set of solar terms 节气 (jiéqì) which has then been followed by the later Chinese.  If you look closely enough at the Chinese calendar, you may find printed some two-character words for some particular days, that is, the twenty-four solar terms 二十四节气 (Èrshísì jiéqì).

The twenty-four solar terms 二十四节气 (Èrshísì jiéqì), or the round solar terms, are set up seasonally.  Each term describes a particular climate 气候 (qìhòu) in a month.  Chinese farmers use these terms as weather broadcasts or reminders for growing plants or grain.  Some solar terms also become traditional Chinese customs in a year such as the Tomb-Sweeping Festival 清明节 (Qīngmíng jié) and the custom of eating “yuanxiao” 元宵 (yuánxiāo), or rice-flour balls, on Winter Solstice 冬至 (dōngzhì).

Due to the climate change, this solar calendar may no longer be accurate, however, it still reminds us of the ancient Chinese wisdom in climate routines and the importance of cultural and environmental protection 环保 (huánbǎo).

*Check the list of solar terms below and see which solar term is coming!

List of solar terms:

NAME (pin yin) DATES (vary throughout the year) TRANSLATION NOTES
立春 lìchūn Feb. 3, 4 or 5 start of spring creatures are alive
雨水 yǔshuǐ Feb. 18, 19 or 20 rain water snow melts into water
惊蛰 jīngzhé Mar. 5, 6 or 7 awakening of insects the spring thunder wakes up the hibernating insects
春分 chūnfēn Mar. 20, 21 or 22 vernal equinox the day and night are bisected
清明 qīngmíng Apr. 4, 5 or 6 clear and bright plants thrive as it gets warm and clear (time for tending graves)
谷雨 gǔyǔ Apr. 19, 20 or 21 grain rain grains need the rain to nurture
立夏 lìxià May 5, 6 or 7 start of summer as the summer begins, it rains more
小满 xiǎomǎn May 20, 21 or 22 grain full when the rice is fully grown
芒种 mángzhòng June 5, 6 or 7 grain has ears when the grain has ears
夏至 xiàzhì June 20, 21 or 22 summer solstice when the daytime is the longest
小暑 xiǎoshǔ July 6, 7 or 8 minor heat it starts to get hot
大暑 dàshǔ July 22, 23 or 24 major heat the heat reaches the climax
立秋 lìqiū Aug. 7, 8 or 9 start of autumn it starts to cool down
处暑 chǔshǔ Aug. 22, 23 or 24 limit of heat the summer heat is diminished
白露 báilù Sep. 7, 8 or 9 white dew the water vapors are condensed into white dew
秋分 qiūfēn Sep. 22, 23 or 24 autumnal equinox when the autumn was half past
寒露 hánlù Oct. 7, 8 or 9 cold dew the cold night makes the water vapors condense into colder dew
霜降 shuāngjiàng Oct. 23 or 24 frost’s descent frost descends as it gets cold
立冬 lìdōng Nov. 7 or 8 start of winter it’s a custom to take herbal tonics for extra nourishment
小雪 xiǎoxuě Nov. 21, 22 or 23 minor snow it snows slightly
大雪 dàxuě Dec. 6, 7 or 8 major snow there is greater snow
冬至 dōngzhì Dec. 21, 22 or 23 winter solstice when the night-time is the shortest. People on that day eat rice-flour balls symbolizing the reunion
小寒 xiǎohán Jan. 5, 6 or 7 minor cold it gets colder after the winter solstice
大寒 dàhán Jan. 19, 20 or 21 major cold the coldest day of a year; also symbolizes the coming of the spring

spring 2
photo source: https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=579674845395866&set=a.579674802062537.147611.100000600668511&type=3&theater

summer
photo source: https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10201960833999544&set=a.1226507219906.2036186.1145812833&type=3&theater

fall
photo source: https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10152430216810096&set=a.10151069852425096.788888.785395095&type=3&theater

winter
photo source: https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=468254393595&set=a.468236608595.252868.531163595&type=3&theater

Information cited from:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solar_term
http://zh.wikipedia.org/wiki/%E8%8A%82%E6%B0%94
http://www.eion.com.tw/Emily/?v=Round-solar-terms
http://www.coa.gov.tw/view.php?catid=284

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