The 24 terms in the solar calendar
The inhabitants of ancient China divided the year into equal segments based on the Earth’s movements around the sun. This way of perceiving and structuring the solar year, subsequent changes in nature over the seasons and their impact on different aspects of people’s lives are closely linked to ancestral knowledge.
Using the calendar, people in China were able to understand their environment and apply this knowledge to agriculture, traditions and cultural identity. Since then, solar terms are playing an important role and have a big influence on people’s basic needs. To be in harmony with nature, it is necessary to adapt to routines and customs, as dictated by changes in the environment, to achieve profit and well-being.
There is a Chinese saying: “Everything is born in spring, grows in summer, is harvested in autumn, hides in winter and people should follow it”.
Similarities between cycles
Flower cyclePlant in the spring
Bloom in the summer
Die in the autumn (harvest)
Wait till winter passes
Next spring …
Human cycleStart doing more exercise in the spring
Work hard in the field during the summer
Slow down and eat more in the autumn to prepare for the winter
Rest and sleep more in the winter - Next spring …
Planting and harvest follow solar terms to take advantage of rainfall and sunlight, and prepare the crops for dew and frost.
In traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), certain therapies are synchronised with solar terms. For example, in moxibustion, the application of heat on the skin surface is believed to transmit energy to the body to cure various diseases or disorders.
This is called “curing winter diseases in summer and summer illnesses in winter” and is meant to enhance the therapies. TCM also recommends various soups, infusions and other preparations throughout the year based on the position of the sun.
For fishermen, the end of the heat means harvest time. During this period, fishing season festivals are held along the coast of the East China Sea in Zhejiang province, near Shanghai. Because of the higher sea temperatures, a lot of fish leave the deep waters and come closer to the surface.
People should eat the right combination of foods – based on the weather – to keep their bodies functioning harmoniously. Traditional recommendations include: “Eating buds in spring, melon in summer, fruits in autumn and roots in winter” and practising intermittent fasting.
Solar terms and ancient China
The idea of solar periods dates back to the Shang dynasty (1600 BC to 1046 BC), deriving from the need to have a precise climate reference to optimise agricultural production.
The ancient Chinese believed the weather changed every 15 days. The year was divided in 24 solar terms. Tradition has it that farmers saw how the time of year affected insects, plants, rainfall and the length of days, among other essential factors for farming activities.
Scholars from the Yellow River basin, the birthplace of Chinese civilisation, established four solar major terms. During the Zhou dynasty (1046 BC to 256 BC), this was increased to eight, then, during the Han dynasty (202 BC to AD220), the current 24 were established, beginning with the “start of spring” and ending with “major cold”. Each season was divided into six solar terms, each lasting 15 days.
Solar terms, seasons, and dates
The following is a detailed explanation of seven of the 24 solar terms, when changes in the environment and nature are more noticeable. These changes are the origin of traditions that have been celebrated for centuries in China and other countries including Korea (24 jeolgi), and Japan (24 sekki).
Here are the dates and seasons for these seven solar terms in 2023:
Star of Spring, February 4th
Nature is revitalising and everything is blooming. The season is welcomed by eating traditional food such as spring rolls and spring pancakes.
experience a renewal
Awakening of Insects, March 6th (Spring)
According to traditional Chinese culture, spring thunderstorms startle hibernating creatures, so the arrival of jingzhe marks an increase in insect activity. Old Chinese sayings such as “once the awakening of insects comes, spring ploughing never rests” reveal jingzhe is an important time for farmers.
ritual during jingzhe
with a shoe
Clear and Bright, April 5th (Spring)
The weather is warmer, and outings and kite flying are popular activities during Ching Ming Festival.
People commemorate their ancestors and show respect by visiting their graves and offering food, tea or wine to their ancestors’ spirits, burning incense and maintaining and repairing the graves.
them at their front door.
Major Heat, July 23rd (Summer)
The hottest day of the year. After this day, fireflies emerge, the soil becomes wetter, and heavy thunderstorms are more frequent. A large number of crickets can be found in the fields, and farmers need to protect their crops.
Start of Autumn, August 8th
Summer ends and the weather gradually turns cooler. The harvest season has arrived. Red maple leaves can be seen alongside mature crops. Animals start to prepare for winter by hunting, collecting and storing food.
autumn winds blow
Winter Solstice, December 22nd (Winter)
The winter solstice festival is a traditional holiday in China. Dongzhi has a long history, imperially recognised since the Han dynasty era.- On this day, the sun travels the shortest path through the sky. As a result it is the longest night of the year.- Families gather around a hot stove, to share steaming plates of dumplings.
a nourishing winter dish to drive away the cold.
Major Cold, Jan 20th, 2024 (Winter)
The last solar term brings the coldest day of the year. When dahan arrives, chickens start to hatch. As the weather remains cold, birds of prey continue to search for food to stay warm.
wisdom suggests people avoid excessive
catch a cold.
going to bed
go to bed