'Festive China': 24 Solar Terms
The traditional Chinese lunar calendar divides the year into 24 solar terms. More than 2,000 years ago, ancient Chinese people created this overall framework to mark the annual passage of time based on observations of the sun's motion. Nowadays, the 24 solar terms not only apply to farming, but also guide Chinese people in everyday life.
In 2016, the 24 solar terms were included in UNESCO's Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. Watch this episode of Festive China to find out more.
Festive China is a series of short clips that focus on traditional Chinese festivals and festivities, the cultural connotations of traditional holidays, their development and changes, and how they are manifested in today's China.
The first day of the first lunar month is Spring Festival, the beginning of a new year for China. Spring Festival for the Year of the Rat falls on Saturday.
Spring Festival is China's biggest extravaganza and a day for family reunion. Being around family members at the turn of the year is a vital ritual for the Chinese people.
Falling on the 15th day of the first lunar month, Lantern Festival is the first significant feast after Spring Festival, and is so-called because the most important activity that night is watching beautifully lit Chinese lanterns float into the sky. During the festival, every household eats yuanxiao (rice balls stuffed with different fillings), so it is also called the Yuan Xiao Festival. For its rich, colorful activities, it is regarded as the most recreational of all the Chinese festivals and a day for appreciating the bright full moon and family reunion.
With a history of over 2,000 years, various traditional customs and activities are held during Lantern Festival that appeal to people of different ages, including watching lanterns and fireworks, guessing lantern riddles, performing folk dances, and eating yuanxiao (the dumpling ball made out of sticky rice flour stuffed with assorted fillings)
Qingming Festival (also known as Pure Brightness Festival or Tomb-Sweeping Day) falls on either April 4th or 5th of the Gregorian calendar, and is one of the Chinese 24 Solar Terms. From that date temperatures begin to rise and rainfall increases, indicating that it is the crucial time for plowing and sowing in the spring. The festival therefore has a close relationship with agriculture. However, it’s not simply a seasonal symbol; it’s also a day of paying respect to the dead and enjoying a spring outing.
Qingming Festival involves various activities, including tomb sweeping, a spring outing, and flying kites. In the past, locals would practice customs such as wearing willow branches on the head and riding on swings as the festival is a combination of celebrating happiness and honoring the departed.
Celebrated on the 5th day of the 5th month according to the Chinese Lunar calendar, the Dragon Boat Festival is one of great significance. It has been held annually for more than 2,000 years and is notable for its educational influence. The festival commemorates the memory of the patriotic poet Qu Yuan (340-278 BC), and serves as an occasion for Chinese people to build their bodies and dispel diseases. Many legends circulate around the festival but the most popular is the legend of Qu Yuan.
Many traditional customs and activities are held by Chinese people and by people in neighboring countries, they include: dragon boat racing, eating zongzi (pyramid-shaped glutinous rice wrapped in reed or bamboo leaves), wearing a perfume pouch, tying five-color silk thread and hanging mugwort leaves and calamus.
Falling on the seventh day of seventh lunar month, the Double Seventh Festival in China is almost equivalent to Valentine’s Day in Western countries. As it’s a day of great importance to girls, the event is also called Young Girls’ Festival. Because of the beautiful legend about Niu Lang and Zhi Nu (the Chinese Romeo and Juliet), the festival has come to symbolize great romance.
While the customs of this festival varies according to different regions, the primary objective is the same. The most prevalent custom is that of girls praying to Zhi Nu for skillful hands in sewing. Because Zhi Nu is regarded as a beautiful woman who is deft at weaving, on the eve of the festival, girls sew articles to compete with each other and prepare some delicious fruits to worship Zhi Nu in order to be endowed with masterful sewing skills. In addition to praying for sewing skills they also pray to receive a love match.
In the rural areas, people usually perceive the meeting of Niu Lang and Zhi Nu as two stars in the sky. At the same time, older people tell the young about this old love legend. Unfortunately, this is not popular in cities nowadays.
Falling on the 15th day of the 8th month according to the Chinese Lunar calendar, the Mid-Autumn Festival is the second grandest festival after the Spring Festival in China. It gets its name from the fact that it is celebrated in the middle of the autumn season. It’s also known as the Moon Festival, because the moon is roundest and brightest at that time of the year.
In mainland China, locals enjoy a day off for the festival which usually falls on a weekend. In Hong Kong and Macau, people also enjoy one day off, however, it is not scheduled on the festival day but the following day and it is usually not connected with the weekend. In Taiwan, the one day holiday falls on the actual festival.
On the day of the festival, family members gather to offer sacrifice to the moon, appreciate the bright full moon, eat moon cakes, and express deep yearnings for family members and friends who live afar. In addition, there are other customs like playing lanterns, and in some regions, partaking in dragon and lion dances. The unique customs of ethnic minorities are noteworthy, such as the Mongolians, “chasing the moon” and the Dong people’s vegetables or fruits.
Held on the 9th day of the 9th lunar month, Chongyang Festival is also called the Double Ninth Festival. In Chinese, nine is regarded as the number of Yang (meaning masculine as opposed to Yin which is feminine). The ninth day of the ninth month is the day that has two Yang numbers, and “chong” in Chinese means double which is how the name Chongyang came to be. Itís a day of eating Chongyang cake, drinking chrysanthemum wine, climbing mountains, and paying homage to chrysanthemums.
During the festival, eating Chongyang cake and drinking chrysanthemum wine is the norm. Climbing mountains and admiring beautiful chrysanthemums are favorite festival pastimes. The Chongyang cake is a steamed cake usually with two layers of nuts and jujube sandwiched in between. Since cake in Chinese is pronounced ‘Gao’ meaning high, people consider climbing a high mountain to be the same as eating cake. So, personal improvement is expected to be made in the days after eating the cake by moving to a higher level of development.
Chrysanthemums which are in full bloom during the festival are regarded as flowers with antitoxin function and the capability of warding off evil. Locals believe that by drinking chrysanthemum wine, all kinds of diseases and disasters can be cured and prevented. They also believe that by ascending to a high mountain, diseases can be prevented. Many renowned poems written by poets in the Tang Dynasty (618 ñ 907 AD) describe the scenery and thrill of mountain climbing. Now, groups of families and good friends gather to climb mountains to enjoy the beautiful scenery and each other’s company during the festival.
In years gone by, the custom of wearing dogwood – a kind of plant thought to dispel disaster ñ was popular. Women and children liked to wear a fragrant pouch with dogwood sewed in. However, this custom has phased out.
Winter Solstice, one of the 24 Solar Terms, is a traditional Chinese festival that usually falls on December 21st, 22nd or 23rd. On that day, the northern hemisphere has the shortest daytime and longest nighttime. After that, areas in this hemisphere have longer days and shorter nights.
Dumplings are the food of choice during Winter Solstice, especially in northern China. According to legend Zhang Zhongjing, a renowned medical scientist at the end of the Eastern Han Dynasty (25 ñ 220 AD), found his fellow townsmen suffering of hunger in the cold when he returned from his position as prefecture chief in winter. Many of them had terrible chilblains in their ears. On the Winter Festival, he cooked food called Jiao Er with a stuffing of medicine and other ingredients to help fend off the cold for his neighbors and they soon recovered. Later, people learned to recreate the dumplings. Lending some truth to the popular saying that one’s ears will freeze if they don’t have dumplings on Winter Solstice.
China has a long and glorious history in arts and traditional crafts that represent the nation’s love of beauty. Chinese master artisans handed down their knowledge and skills to the next generation, which preserved the older methods, and made them unique to the Chinese culture.
The areas that represent Chinese culture include:
Bronze Vessels were invented over 5,000 years ago and were intricately decorated with a diverse range of designs and motifs. Bronze was used to make musical instruments, ceremonial offerings and weapons of war.
China Calligraphy is a highly stylized form of writing and was developed and improved by eminent calligraphers throughout Chinese history. The tools of calligraphy: writing brush, ink stick, paper, and ink slab, are the “four treasures of study” and are indispensable for calligraphers.
Chinese Cloisonné is enamel artwork that is bright and vivid – and favors the the color blue. It is renowned for its use of high-quality material and requires a complex manufacturing process.
Chinese Jade symbolizes merit, grace, and dignity and occupies a special position in Chinese society. For more than 4,000 years it has been used to decorate rooms, and is worn as jewelry by people hoping for a blessing.
Chinese Embroidery originated in the Shang Dynasty (16th – 11th century BC), and now has four major traditional styles: Su, Shu, Xiang, and Yue. Ethnic minority groups such as the Bai, Bouyei and Miao are widely known for their expertise in this area.
Folk Toys possess represent a combination of artistic appreciation and playful enjoyment. These toys are endowed with numerous meanings that express wishes for a happy and content life.
Chinese Kites are constructed of paper and bamboo which are formed into shapes such as swallows, centipedes, butterflies, and other animals. A kite makers’ skill is reflected in the kite’s flexible flying movement, along with how it is painted.
Lacquer Ware first appeared about 7,000 years ago with the primary colors being black and red. Appearing in many different forms – from bowls to paintings – lacquer ware is known for its beauty and durability.
Chinese Lanterns symbolize the country’s extensive festival culture. With a long history and interesting traditions behind them, lanterns add a festive look to any occasion.
China Music began some 7,000 to 8,000 years ago. Different dynasties invented unique melodies that were played with traditional instruments.
Chinese Opera is recognized as one of the three oldest dramatic art forms in the world. It combines music, art, and literature and is characterized by unique facial makeup and outstanding acrobatics.
Chinese Painting is divided into figures, landscapes, and birds and flowers. Each type has its own distinctive characteristics.
Paper-Cuttings feature patterns such as monkeys, flowers, and figures and are produced by female rural artisans. These cuttings are displayed to express the hopes and wishes of a buildings’ inhabitants.
Chinese Porcelain began with the Shang Dynasty and is characterized by fine textures, bright colors, and distinctive shapes and styles. Jingdezhen, located in Jiangxi Province, is the Porcelain Capital of the world.
Chinese Pottery has been around for 8,000 years and is regarded as mankind’s oldest artwork. The accomplishments in pottery works include the Terra Cotta Warriors, in Xian, Shaanxi Province, and the Tricolor Glazed pottery of the Tang Dynasty.
China Seals are made of metal, jade, animal tooth or horn and are decorated with calligraphy and engravings.
Shadow Puppetry encompasses shadow play and theatrical property. The vivid shadow puppets, including the figures and scenes, are made from leather. Skilled artists operating the puppets project shadows onto a white screen.
China Silk: A silkworm produces 3,280 feet of silk thread in 28-day lifespan. Major local silk products in China include Shu, Yun, Song Brocade and brocades produced by ethnic minorities such as the Zhuang and the Dong people.
Residential areas in China are equipped with fitness clubs, bowling rooms, and swimming pools. Hotels often have bowling rooms, billiard rooms, gymnasiums, closed-circuit television and satellite TV. Singing and dancing halls, nightclubs, bars, and KTVs are often open all night.
Suburban areas have amusement parks, holiday villages, folk culture villages, safari parks, ecological parks, botanical gardens, and angling areas. Tourists who are seeking a healthy experience can visit herbalists, acupuncturists, sauna and physiotherapy centers, blind massage centers, and drug-dip bath treatments.
Extreme sports events in China include clubs for slip boards, wheelbarrows, bungee jumping, and paragliding. Gymnasiums and sports centers hold football, basketball, table tennis, badminton, and track and field tournaments.
In the large-medium cities throughout China, cultural institutions such as concert halls and theatres have been built to host Sino-foreign national concerts, symphony concerts, song and dance and drama, ballet and acrobatics.
Opera is highly popular in China, and can be found throughout the country in many different forms, some of which concentrate on dramatic performances. The Beijing opera is regarded as the quintessence of Chinese opera.
Cinemas screen famous foreign movies, and popular Chinese movies. Large cities have museums and artistic centers for exhibitions of culture relics, photographs, paintings, and artwork.
Municipal and district level cultural areas have been established for children and feature calligraphy, painting, photograph, music, dance, Chinese martial arts, model air plane, sculpture, and other cultural activities.