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24 Solar Terms: All Things You Must Know

As the rhythms of nature flow, so too does the traditional Chinese calendar, guiding farmers and city-dwellers alike through the changing seasons. Central to this ancient wisdom are the 24 Solar Terms, each marking a specific point in the sun’s annual journey. Among these, the Start of Spring (lì chūn 立春) holds a special place, heralding the arrival of new life. In this article, WuKong Chinese will provide you with all the information you desire to know about the 24 Solar Terms, including their origins, culinary customs, agricultural rhythms, and more.

Part1. The Origins of the 24 Solar Terms

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The concept of solar terms dates back to the Spring and Autumn Period (770-476 BC), when eight key points were used to mark the changing seasons. By the Western Han Dynasty (206 BC-AD 24), this had evolved into the 24 Solar Terms we know today, each corresponding to a specific position of the sun on the ecliptic longitude. These terms, divided into 12 major and 12 minor solar terms, provide a detailed roadmap of the year’s natural phenomena. From the first stirrings of insects in Awakening of Insects (jīng zhé 惊蛰) to the crisp, cool days of Frost’s Descent (shuāng jiàng 霜降), each term encapsulates the subtle changes in weather, agriculture, and even human activity.

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Part2. What are the 24 Solar Terms?

To truly appreciate the depth and richness of the 24 solar terms, let’s take a closer look at each one, along with their corresponding dates and meanings:

Start of Spring (lì chūn 立春): February 4th – The beginning of the spring season, marking the renewal of life.

Rain Water (yǔ shuǐ 雨水): February 19th – Increased rainfall nourishes the growing plants.

Awakening of Insects (jīng zhé 惊蛰): March 5th – Hibernating insects begin to stir as the weather warms.

Vernal Equinox (chūn fēn 春分): March 21st – Day and night are of equal length, signifying the midpoint of spring.

Clear and Bright (qīng míng 清明): April 4th – Skies clear and the weather becomes noticeably warmer.

Grain Rain (gǔ yǔ 谷雨): April 19th – Grains benefit from the increased rainfall.

Start of Summer (lì xià 立夏): May 5th – The beginning of the summer season.

Small Full (Grain) (xiǎo mǎn 小满): May 20th – Grains begin to plump but are not yet ripe.

Grain in Ear (máng zhǒng 芒种): June 5th – Wheat ears mature, ready for harvest.

Summer Solstice (xià zhì 夏至): June 21st – The longest day and shortest night of the year.

Minor Heat (xiǎo shǔ 小暑): July 6th – The beginning of the hottest period.

Major Heat (dà shǔ 大暑): July 22nd – The peak of the summer heat.

Start of Autumn (lì qiū 立秋): August 7th – The beginning of the autumn season.

Limit of Heat (chù shǔ 处暑): August 22nd – The end of the scorching summer heat.

White Dew (bái lù 白露): September 7th – Dew begins to form as the weather cools.

Autumnal Equinox (qiū fēn 秋分): September 22nd – Day and night are once again of equal length, marking the midpoint of autumn.

Cold Dew (hán lù 寒露): October 8th – Dew turns cold as winter approaches.

Frost’s Descent (shuāng jiàng 霜降): October 23rd – Frost begins to form, signifying the increasing cold.

Start of Winter (lì dōng 立冬): November 7th – The beginning of the winter season.

Minor Snow (xiǎo xuě 小雪): November 22nd – Light snowfall begins.

Major Snow (dà xuě 大雪): December 6th – Heavy snowfall becomes more common.

Winter Solstice (dōng zhì 冬至): December 21st – The shortest day and longest night of the year.

Minor Cold (xiǎo hán 小寒): January 5th – The coldest period begins.

Greater Cold (dà hán 大寒): January 20th – The peak of the winter cold.

Each of these solar terms encapsulates a unique moment in the earth’s journey around the sun, reflecting the subtle changes in weather, plant life, and animal behavior that mark the turning of the seasons. By attuning ourselves to these natural rhythms, we can cultivate a deeper appreciation for the beauty and wisdom of the world around us, and find a sense of connection and harmony with the cycles of life.

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Part3. Start of Spring: Welcoming the New Year

For centuries, Start of Spring marked the beginning of the Chinese New Year, a time of renewal, family gatherings, and festive celebrations. Though the date of the Spring Festival shifted to the lunar calendar in 1913, the Start of Spring remains a beloved symbol of hope and new beginnings.

As the first of the 24 solar terms, Start of Spring falls around February 4th or 5th each year. Despite its name, this period may still feel quite chilly, especially in northern China. However, the increasing daylight and warming soil hint at the transformations to come.

Part4. Seasonal Specialties: Culinary Customs of the Solar Terms

Each of the Chinese 24 solar terms brings its own unique flavors and ingredients. During Start of Spring, it’s customary to eat spring pancakes (chūn bǐng 春饼) and spring rolls (chūn juǎn 春卷), both filled with fresh, crisp vegetables. These dishes symbolize the wrapping up of the old year and the welcoming of the new.

As the seasons progress, so too do the culinary delights. From the tender, young bamboo shoots of Qing Ming to the fragrant lychees of Grain in Ear (máng zhǒng 芒种), each solar term offers a tantalizing array of seasonal specialties, deeply rooted in local customs and traditions.

Part5. Agricultural Rhythms of the Solar Terms

24 Solar Terms: All Things You Must Know - WuKong Blog

For farmers, the 24 solar terms serve as a celestial almanac, guiding every stage of the agricultural cycle. During Start of Spring, farmers prepare their fields for planting, turning over the soil and mending their tools. As the terms progress, so too do the tasks at hand – from sowing seeds in Grain Rain (gǔ yǔ 谷雨) to harvesting ripe grains in Limit of Heat (chù shǔ 处暑).

This intimate connection between the solar terms and agriculture has shaped Chinese culture for millennia. Even today, with the advent of modern farming techniques, many farmers still look to the wisdom of the solar terms to guide their planting and harvesting decisions.

Part6. Festivals and Folklore of the Solar Terms

Each of the Chinese 24 solar terms brings its own unique festivities and traditions. During Start of Spring, people often hang spring couplets (chūn lián 春联) and paper-cuts on their doors, symbolizing good fortune and happiness for the coming year. In some regions, people also participate in spring outings, enjoying the fresh air and budding greenery.

As the year progresses, other solar terms bring their own special celebrations. From the lively dragon boat races of Grain in Ear to the mooncakes and lanterns of the Mid-Autumn Festival, these traditions provide a rich tapestry of cultural heritage, connecting modern Chinese people with their ancestors’ wisdom and ways of life.

FAQs about 24 Solar Terms

Q1. How do the 24 solar terms reflect the wisdom of ancient Chinese culture?

The 24 solar terms demonstrate the deep understanding and respect ancient Chinese people had for nature. They created a system that guided their agricultural practices and helped them live in harmony with the natural world.

Q2. In what ways can the 24 solar terms be relevant to our modern, technology-driven lives?

The solar terms remind us to pause, notice the changes around us, and appreciate the beauty of each moment. They encourage us to live mindfully, adapt to the challenges and opportunities of each season, and cultivate a connection with nature.

Q3. How can learning about the 24 solar terms enrich our understanding of Chinese culture and history?

The 24 solar terms are deeply woven into Chinese culture, influencing agriculture, cuisine, festivals, and folk customs. Learning about them provides context for appreciating the depth and complexity of Chinese culture and the wisdom it offers.

Conclusion

In our fast-paced, technology-driven world, it’s easy to feel disconnected from the natural rhythms that have guided humanity for millennia. Yet the 24 solar terms remain a powerful reminder of our deep connection to the earth and its seasons. Through the sharing of this article, I believe you must have some understanding of the 24 solar terms. If you’re still eager to learn more about Chinese culture, please stay connected with WuKong Chinese. By clicking below, you can also avail yourself of free trial lessons!

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