The 24 Solar Markers
The traditional Chinese Farmer's calendar is based on the Chinese Solar calendar. The Twenty Four Divisions within this calendar mark the Sun's passage along the ecliptic. The ecliptic is the great circle of 360 degrees the Earth moves around the sun in a year. Twelve monthly divisions are made at the 30 degree points, giving 12 solar months. The starting point of each of these months is distinguished by a festival known as a 'Chieh' while the mid point of the month is marked by a further observance. As keen astronomers, the early Chinese scholars who originally devised the calendar also observed the position of the Great Dipper or Ursa Minor, on some of these dates. This constellation was of great significance to them as they charted the heavens. There is approximately fifteen days between each of these dates in this farmer's calendar.
These 24 Solar Makers (some writers refer to them as Seasonal Nodes*), are dates therefore, that signify the subtle climatic changes to be expected throughout the year, and what they meant traditionally to the farmers of Central and North China. Sometimes folk festivals are associated with a particular Marker. Today, as the new China rushes head long into modernisation, many are still observed, even in the big cities. Intrinsically, they are linked to the seasonal transitions, as these too innately reflect the processing of the five phases (elements) as they cycle through the year.
It should be remembered when considering the events outlined here, this calendar refers specifically to China's central regions and the weather aspects of it are therefore only relevant to these regions.
Li Chun – The Beginning of Spring: 4th Feb.
The first of these festivals starts on or about the 4th February this being the half way mark between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox. This is the date the feng shui year starts and when calculating the Four Pillars of Destiny, the year one is born in, is calculated from. It is thought it best if the day is warm and sunny and there is no rain as this portends a good harvest.
Yu Shui - Rain Water: 19th Feb.
From this time forward the snows turn to rain instead, there usually being no further rain after this date. The dry weather of winter gives way to the rising humidity of the spring.
Jing Zhe – Excited Insects: 6th March.
This is the time when, with the increasing warmth of temperatures, the insects and hibernating animals begin to wake from their winter slumbers and become lively. There may even be spring thunder storms at this time of year. Farmers will begin to plough their fields in preparation for the spring planting and know there is little rest for them from this date forward until the harvests are in.
Chun Fen – Spring Equinox: 21st March.
This day marks the vernal equinox when the sun is at the equator and early Chinese astronomers observed the tail of the big dipper pointing directly north. The expression Chun Fen refers to an equal division between Yang and Yin and the daylight hours are the same as the night hours. The weather is neither hot nor cold on this day.
Ching Ming – Clear and Bright Festival: 5th April.
Clear and bright refers to the weather in Central China at this time, when the skies are usually clear and temperatures are on the rise with the cold and snows of winter now well gone and the trees all coming into bud. The farmers have their spring planting well under way by this time. This is a very important festival and is usually observed by whole families going to the gravesites of their ancestors to sweep and clean the tombs and pay respect to their forbears.
Gu Yu – Rain for Grain: 20th March.
At this time of year, as the rains increase they really help the grain crops that have already been planted and should be doing well. The weather is usually very warm at this time. In the North, a saying goes, ‘Around the time of Gu Yu, plant melon seeds and sow the fields with beans.’
Li Xia – Summer Begins: 6th May.
Summer officially begins with this date and with it come higher temperatures, more rain and thunderstorms; all helping the by now verdant crops. One farmer’s saying warns the peasants to weed their fields for three days in a row after Li Xia, so luxuriant is the growth at this time expected to be.
Xiao Man – Grain Full: 21st May.
In the north, grain crops are filling but are not yet quite ripe for reaping, while in the south the first crops are ready to harvest so it is sometimes referred to as small fulfilment. Rain is thought to be desirable on this day as it will continue to help the crops, especially in the north.
Mang Zhong – Grain in Ear: 6th June.
Mang translates as awn and refers to crops such as barley and oats whose sheaths terminate in little tufts or beards. Zhong translates as seeds. Such crops begin to sprout their beardlike tufts at this time of year. In the middle and lower Yangtze River reaches it is the rainy season while elsewhere, the peasants are busy with their crops and summer harvests.
Xia Zhi – Summer Solstice: 22nd June.
The Sun is directly overhead on the Tropic of Cancer marking the longest day in the Northern Hemisphere. Traditional Chinese astronomers noted the tail of the Big Dipper pointing directly to the East. The crops are easily overwhelmed by weeds and pests. A peasant’s adage says, ‘Summer Solstice Day, cotton fields are overgrown with weeds, which are more dangerous than a poisonous snake snapping.’ Thunder on this day signifies a dry season to come.
Xiao Shu – Slight Heat: 8th July.
This date marks the start of the dog days of summer, the hottest period of the year although the heat is not yet at its zenith and so it is called Slight Heat. The peasants need to be on top of their crops and are reaping their mid summer harvesting while preparing for any autumn crops they may plan.
Da Shu – Great Heat: 24th July.
This sees the mid dog days of summer, the years hottest weather settles in and the peasants take cooling foods to maintain their bodies for the hard work in trying temperatures. Heavy rain is frequently a feature at this time of year.
Li Qiu – Autumn Begins: 8th August.
The crops should by now be starting to be ready for harvesting as the weather cools. In the central regions, the farmers begin to bring in the early rice and transplant the autumn rice; it being common to plant two wet rice crops a year in many parts of China. Folk customs will often see peasants sew red cloth in the shape of a gourd onto children’s clothing at this time as prevention against sickness. It is hope there will be no rain, thunder or winds at this time as they are bad for the crops.
Qu Shu – Limit of Heat: 24th August.
Temperatures continue to fall across China with light rain being seen as propitious.
Bai Lu – White Dew: 8th September.
Heavy dews and even early, light frosts start to appear across China at this time and although neither wind nor rain is desirable on this day; foggy weather taken as a positive sign.
Qiu Fen – Autumn Equinox: 24th September.
Qiu Fen, like Chun Fen, refers to a parity of Yin and Yang and so denotes the equal day, equal night of the time, and like the Spring Equinox, the Sun is directly overhead on the Equator. Early Chinese astronomers noted the tail of the Big Dipper thus pointed directly south and precisely 180 degrees opposite the vernal equinox on the Ecliptic. As with its vernal counterpart, it is said the weather is neither hot nor cold. In the north of China the autumn harvests are taking part and the late autumn crops are planted at this time.
Han Lu – Cold Dew: 9th October.
Temperatures are now noticeably colder across China and the dews are often icy cold. Autumn harvesting and late plantings are well under way. It is customary for families to pay tribute to their ancestors at this time.
Shuang Jiang – Frost’s Descent: 24th October.
Heavy frosts and even some snow starts from this time along the Yellow River Valley; while in the south it is a very busy time with autumn harvesting and the planting of late crops.
Li Dong – Winter Begins: 8th November.
This day marks the beginning of the winter season. The harvested crops need storing for the coming winter and the real cold descends with northern rivers starting to freeze over.
Xiao Xue - Slight Snow: 23rd November.
As the name denotes, snows start across the Yellow River valley and the Northern provinces but it is not yet heavy snow.
Da Xue – Great Snow: 7th December.
Snow now covers much of the north and central parts of China; even in some southern regions. A farmer’s adage counsels: “Snow swirls around the time of Da Xue and Dong Zhi; time for engaging in sideline production and collecting manure.”
Dong Zhi – Winter Solstice: 22nd December.
The winter solstice sees the Sun directly overhead on the Tropic of Capricorn. Early Chinese astronomers noted that the tail of the Big Dipper pointed directly to the West. It is a time for the family to get together as at Chinese New Year and eat dumplings.
Xiao Han – Slight Cold: 8th January.
This is the start of the really cold weather but it is not yet as cold as it will become, hence it is called Slight Cold.
Da Han – Great Cold: 21st January.
With this date comes the bitterest cold.
* T F Aylward