The logic of “Jingzhe”

China Scenic - - Feature - By

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.

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