The Twenty-Four Solar Terms, knowledge in China of time and practices developed through observation of the sun’s annual motion

Inscribed in 2016 (11.COM) on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity

© China Agricultural Museum, 2015
The ancient Chinese divided the sun’s annual circular motion into 24 segments. Each segment was called a specific ‘Solar Term’. The element of Twenty-Four Solar Terms originated in the Yellow River reaches of China. The criteria for its formulation were developed through the observation of changes of seasons, astronomy and other natural phenomena in this region and has been progressively applied nationwide. It starts from the Beginning of Spring and ends with the Greater Cold, moving in cycles. The element has been transmitted from generation to generation and used traditionally as a timeframe to direct production and daily routines. It remains of particular importance to farmers for guiding their practices. Having been integrated into the Gregorian calendar, it is used widely by communities and shared by many ethnic groups in China. Some rituals and festivities in China are closely associated with the Solar Terms for example, the First Frost Festival of the Zhuang People and the Ritual for the Beginning of Spring in Jiuhua. The terms may also be referenced in nursery rhymes, ballads and proverbs. These various functions of the element have enhanced its viability as a form of intangible cultural heritage and sustain its contribution to the community’s cultural identity. Knowledge of the element is transmitted through formal and informal means of education.
Students from the primary and middle schools are instructed to measure sun shadow and calculate solar terms through on-the-spot trainings, facilitated by the local communities, at the ancient observatory which is located in Gaocheng Township, Dengfeng City, Henan Province
During the term beginning of spring, folks in Yuxi Village, Suichang County, Zhejiang Province, hold the ceremony to initiate spring plowing to encouraging farming
Upon the term spring equinox, the weather in Zhaoping County, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, features a moderate temperature with plenty of rain that helps tea budding; hence the local communities seize the best season to pick and manufacture spring tea.
On the day of Fresh Green, villagers from Qianjin community, Guangan City, Sichuan, hold the Qingming Grand Ceremony to offer sacrifice to ancestors, paying solemn tribute to their deceased members and ancestors.
On Grain in Ear, farmers in the fields of Tancheng County are harvesting ripe wheat while planting autumn crops, as the peasant proverb goes, 'Being engaged on Grain in Ear, farmers always reap and seed at the same time'.
During summer solstice, masters on acupuncture and massage in a community clinic of Tangshan City apply medicinal plasters to patients to preserve good health according to TCM theory of 'treating winter diseases in summer'.
On beginning of autumn, a good harvest is in sight. The communities in Huayuan County, Xiangxi Tujia and Miao Autonomous Prefecture in Hunan Province, are performing origination dance to celebrate the traditional autumn fair of the Miao People.
On autumnal equinox, the folks in Fanwang Village, Qingzhou City, Shandong Province, take instant actions to reap crops and sun-cure corns, as they say, 'Doing farm work in the right season'.
On beginning of winter, the farmers living in Beijing suburbs are taking full advantage of the dropped temperature to carry out winter wheat irrigation.
On winter solstice, the communities in Sanmen County, Zhejiang Province, organize grand and solemn folkloric activities for upholding winter worship, expressing their gratitude for the nature and ancestors.
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