The logic of “Jingzhe”
Among the 24 solar terms, one that has given me a particularly deep impression is Jingzhe (Insects Awaken). From the name one can imagine a particular scene: with a rising roar in the far distance, the wings of thousands upon thousands of tiny insects begin to beat in unison, as their newly opened eyes fix upon the giant deity shining in the sky, the first journey taking them from their homes toward the great unknown world ahead.
There’s a saying in China: “When thunder strikes during Lichun (Spring Begins), graves will rise in piles; and when thunder strikes during Jingzhe, the wheat will rise in piles”. This means that during Lichun if thunder strikes it is unlucky, and many people will die; while thunder during Jingzhe is lucky, and a bountiful harvest is to follow.
Ostensibly this “luck” is determined by thunder, the difference lying merely in the time of year when it occurs. Looking deeper at the reason for this, the thunder is an indirect reflection of changes in weather. The basic pattern for weather change is that after spring it gradually gets warmer, then when reaching a certain temperature, thunderclouds will appear in the sky, resulting in the striking of thunder itself.
In general, Lichun falls on around February 6, while Jingzhe is around February 21, the two being half a month apart. If thunder occurs before Lichun, this signifies that the temperature will rise early that year. This in turn results in two problems: the first is that the winter wheat revives too early, making it susceptible to damage due to cold fronts from the north, and thus crop loss; the second problem is that, with an early rise in temperature, along with the low amount of precipitation at this time of the year, the air will be dry, which is conducive to the spread of pathogens, thus leading to cold viruses, and elderly people in particular are susceptible to asthma, heart disease and high blood pressure, all of which may lead to death, hence the “graves piling up”.
In contrast, when thunder occurs during Jingzhe, it signifies that the temperature rise is relatively normal. With an increase in precipitation at this time, it will not be as easy for people to catch colds, and the winter wheat will sprout as normal, the wheat ears splitting fully so as to grow nice and large, leading to an ample harvest, or the “wheat piling up”. This simple proverb vividly and accurately ties together the solar terms and the daily lives of the people.
The creation and use of the 24 solar terms represent the transition of the Chinese from primitive state of unawareness to a developmental stage where they could observe and adhere to the natural change patterns of their environment, which allowed them to produce food in the most secure and efficient way. In ancient times, the 24 solar terms of the year, along with the 72 phenological sub-terms (each solar term is divided into three sub-terms), were an integral and practical timekeeping method used by farmers. They did not have the concept of a “week”, and lived from one five-day solar sub-term to the next, based on which they could reliably observe the changes of the season and adjust their daily habits accordingly.