There's an ancient observatory in Dengfeng City, Henan province, which was used to observe the changes of season and climate according to the sun shadow so as to arrange farming activities and daily life. Even today, it remains an important cultural space for young generations to learn the Twenty-four Solar Terms.
the Twenty-four Solar Terms 二十四节气
The Twenty-four Solar Terms is a knowledge system and social practices through which the Chinese organize their perception of astronomical laws and their relation with the natural world.
Ancient Chinese divided the circle of the annual motion of the sun into 24 equal segments, each segment was called a Jie Qi or solar term. Hence the 24 segments are collectively called the Twenty-four Solar Terms.
Beginning of Spring
Beginning of Summer
Grain In Ear
Beginning of Autumn
End of Heat
Beginning of Winter
In international meteorology, this cognitive system of time has been given the title of the Fifth Great Invention of China.
For thousands of years, the Twenty-four Solar Terms has profoundly influenced Chinese people's way of thinking and code of conduct. It is both an important carrier of Chinese cultural identity and vivid evidence of the cultural diversity of humanity
The Twenty-four Solar Terms originated in the Yellow River reaches. The criteria for its formulation were the observation of changes of astronomical time sequence, air temperature, precipitation as well as other local natural phenomena. It was progressively applied as a time directory in the production and life of agricultural society and then shared by many ethnic groups
the Yellow River reaches 黄河流域
precipitation n. 降水；冰雹；坠落；鲁莽；[化学] 沉淀，[化学] 沉淀物
This heritage has been permeating almost all aspects of Chinese people's lives. Upon a specific Solar Term, people spontaneously arranged farming and daily life, thus this traditional knowledge is sustained through ritual practices and folk activities
The term Beginning of Spring is an important period to initiate plowing. Various regional ceremonies such as Welcoming Spring, Touching Spring Ox, Singing for Spring, Doing Obeisance to Spring, Tasting Spring etc., are held to worship the God of Spring and encourage farming and sericulture.
On Beginning of Autumn, the Miao People in Huayuan County, Hunan, celebrate Autumn Fair: they greet guests, perform dragon and drum dance, play eight-person swing, sing folks songs rejoicing for the favorable weather and the golden harvest. The Twenty-four Solar Terms is not only a guide to spring plowing, summer weeding, autumn harvesting and winter storing, but also the crystallization of the wisdom of China's agricultural civilization. It still serves as an important reference for forecasting the farming season and preventing natural calamities.
“Plowed on Insects Awakening, the fields will be perfect for planting by Spring Equinox”, many similar farming proverbs related to the solar terms have been widely spread and continue playing a role in nowadays agriculture
farming proverb 农谚
“White geese flying over announced the coming of the First Frost, while the sound comes from the green woods.” When the day of First Frost arrives, the fields in the rural area of Dengfeng City of Henan exhibit a bustling scene of sweet potato digging.
We don’t start to collect sweet potatoes until the very day of the First Frost; doing it earlier they are still unripe; if too late, they may freeze and get rotten.
Meanwhile in Tiandeng County of Guangxi, the First Frost Festival of the Zhuang people is held to give thanks to nature and celebrate the harvest.
In the view of Chinese people, the rhythm of life is closely connected with the Solar Terms. This view inspires China's peculiar ways of keeping good health. In Banshan, Hangzhou city, on Beginning of Summer, people hold traditional activities to keep fit such as eating black sticky rice and climbing mountains.
According to Huang Di Nei Jing, or Yellow Emperor's Inner Canon, the Yang of the human body should be nourished in spring and summer, and the Yin in autumn and winter, and winter diseases should be cured in summer. This wisdom witnesses the principle of “treatment based on syndromes” in traditional Chinese medicine.
Yellow Emperor's Inner Canon 《黄帝内经》
Today, the Twenty-four Solar Terms has been incorporated into Chinese curricula of primary and middle schools. From there early age, students memorize the Song of Solar Terms to develop the concept of time and understand nature.
“To comply with the mandates of heaven and time and act accordingly” has become a way to learn from nature, uphold harmony and cherish life which characterizes the Chinese spirit
The concepts of Unity of Heaven and Man and Circulation of the Yin and Yang in traditional Chinese philosophy are the core thinking behind the Twenty-four Solar Terms, which express the cultural spirit of harmony between man and man, and between man and nature. This thinking not only cultivates Chinese respect for the law of nature and the rhythm of life, but also creates the ideal of social life featuring natural balance and emphasis on harmony
The Twenty-four Solar Terms is a vehicle of traditional knowledge and folk wisdom such as astronomy, farming, sericulture, natural history, first education, arithmetic and healthcare. At the same time, it is a harmonious integration of cultural expressions such as belief, rituals, poetry, storytelling, opera, proverbs, folk fine arts, chess, calligraphy and painting. This heritage has inspired the cultural creativity of modern Chinese, it has nourished the growth of public sculpture, architectural decoration, music and dance, literature, film and TV production, children's picture books and even the latest digital applications.
The Twenty-four Solar Terms have long been integrated in calendars universally adopted by the country and coexist with the traditional calendars of the Tibetan and Yi peoples. It pervades the history and reality of multi-ethnic China and reflects the same cultural emotions and time experiences.
On Beginning of Spring, the Spring Tellers of Shiqian county, Guizhou province go from door to door, talking and singing melodies in Dong, Tujia, Miao, Gelao and other ethnic languages to pray for a good harvest in a vivid display of harmony among different ethnic groups
Fresh Green not merely indicates a ceremony in spring during which people go hiking and outing, but also a traditional festival of ancestor worship, as well as a spiritual bond of cultural identity unifying the Chinese people. Since 2008, the day of Fresh Green has become a national holiday.
On Winter Solstice, southerners eat Dong Zhi Yuan or glue puddings which symbolize the happy family and harmonious society, while northerners share dumplings in the community to encourage good deeds as in the “1000-person dumpling banquet”. This heritage plays a significant role in promoting the cultural identity of communities, ethnic groups and the country
glue pudding 汤圆
It not only arouses the cultural self-consciousness of the young generation, but also enhances dialogues between different cultures and is compatible with sustainable development.
To ensure the intergenerational transmission and viability of the heritage, with participation of communities groups and individuals concerned, we draw up a five-year safeguarding plan featuring the following measures:
The Five-year Action Plan
(2017 – 2021)
Organize regular exchange activities and training classes in communities
Establish training centers and improve the mechanism of transmission
Carry out surveys, recordings and digitalized documentation
Prepare reports on safeguarding and restore related places for practice
Set up website columns to enhance visibility and public awareness
Collect related cultural objects, and hold exhibitions
Compile reading materials for children to promote transmission
Organize academic activities to encourage dialogues and exchanges
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