The 24 solar terms: part eight

By / 03-19-2015 / (Chinese Social Sciences Today)

The proverb “Sunny on Li Dong, cold in the winter; cloudy on Li Dong, warm in the winter” forecasts the weather.


Shuang Jiang: Frost’s Descent
Frost’s Descent, the last solar term of autumn, comes when the sun reaches the celestial longitude of 210 degrees around Oct. 23. Shuang Jiang means the weather is becoming colder and colder, and frost is beginning to appear. With the arrival of Shuang Jiang, deciduous plants stop growing and begin to wither away. The world is filled with the atmosphere of late autumn.

According to ancient records, there are three signs that signal the Shuang Jiang period has begun. The first sign is that animals, such as jackals, begin to hunt and store food after the first day of Shuang Jiang in preparation for the coming winter. The second is that trees and grass become withered and there are fallen leaves everywhere. The third sign is that hibernating animals return to their caves for the winter. During the period, all the creatures of nature and people get ready for winter’s arrival.

Special customs for the Shuang Jiang period vary according to region. For example, it is customary to eat duck on the first day of Shuang Jiang in southern Fujian Province and Taiwan. There is a saying that goes, “Even nourishment all year is not as good as nourishing the human body on the first day of Shuang Jiang.” Meanwhile, for people in Shandong Province, the preferred food is beef.

Li Dong: Start of Winter
Li Dong lasts from Nov. 7 or 8 to the 22 or 23, and it stands for the beginning of a new season. “Dong (winter), is the end, the collection of everything.” This means that the autumn crops have been harvested and animals have hidden to prepare for hibernation.

The ancient people divided Li Dong into three periods. In the first period, the water turns to ice. In the second, the earth is frozen, and in the third, “the pheasants turn into clams.” This is because after Li Dong, the pheasant and other birds are hard to see, while on the seaside, there are some clams whose lines and colors are just like that of the pheasant. Thus, the ancient people believed that birds turned into clams after Li Dong.

The ancient people used the solar term to forecast the weather of the coming winter with proverbs like, “sunny on Li Dong, cold in the winter; cloudy on Li Dong, warm in the winter.” On that day, in ancient times, the emperor would perform the ritual of welcoming winter in the suburbs and he would bestow his officials with winter clothes and show his mercy to the poor.

Nowadays, people from the northern areas of China celebrate “Winter Begins” by eating jiaozi, a type of dumplings. The saying goes, “Eat jiaozi on Li Dong, or your ears will be frostbitten.” It is said that the dumpling was once called “jiao er,” with er meaning ear, and its curling ends were said to resemble an ear.