Editor's note: The 24 Solar terms are an ancient Chinese calendar used to guide farming. They are the crystallization of the accumulated experience and wisdom of the working people of the Chinese nation. Since ancient China was an agricultural society, people required a strict understanding of the sun’s movement, and farming was conducted entirely according to the sun as well. Therefore, the “24 solar terms”, which reflects the sun’s movement cycle, were added to the calendar as the standard for determining leap months. The 24 solar terms are: Start of Spring, Rain, Awakening of Insects, Spring Equinox, Qingming festival, Grain Rain, Start of Summer, Grain Buds, Grain in Ear, Summer Solstice, Minor Heat, Major Heat, Start of Autumn, End of Heat, White Dew, Autumn Equinox, Cold Dew, Frost’s Descent, Start of Winter, Minor Snow, Major Snow, Winter Solstice, Minor Cold and Major Cold. On November 30, 2016, China’s “24 Solar terms” was officially inscribed on UNESCO’s Representative List of intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. We have introduced the 24 Solar terms column to bring you a taste of the beauty of traditional Chinese culture.
After two weeks of alternate heavy rainfall and sunshine, we welcome the second solar term of the summer amidst the embrace of the buzzing sound of insects. Xiaoman, or “Grain buds” in English, indicates that summer grains and crops begin to grow plump in this period. The Chinese name of this solar term is a combination of the character “xiao” which means less, and “man”, which depicts an abundance of water. During Xiaoman, warm air masses are confronted by cold masses, with numerous heavy rains to come.
Crops growing vibrantly
Xiaoman can also remind peasants of the farm work carried out at this stage. There are many peasants’ sayings about Xiaoman which are simple and catchy. One goes: “If Xiaoman isn’t fulfilled , the land will dry.” Another proclaims: “If Xiaoman isn’t filled, Mangzhong (the solar term after Xiaoman ) won’t charge.” These two proverbs explain that if the farmland isn’t filled up with water, the farmland would dry up, leaving the people unable to transplant rice in Mangzhong. These sayings both demonstrate the effort put forth by peasants in Xiaoman.
Just like other solar terms, Xiaoman can be divided into three pentads, and each of the pentads lasts for five days. Slight changes of heat, humidity and sunlight occur at every moment, so a more elaborate division of time is necessary to remind peasants what to do next. Bitter herbs flourish in the first pentad. Next, in the second stage, plants that demand shade wilt due to the strong sunlight, while wheat starts to mature in the last pentad. Summer harvest is an echo of the seeding of last year autumn.
Many poems depict different dimension of Xiaoman. The line “Nightingales sing to the willow while the bright moon wakes the skies up” illustrates the peaceful scenery of the night of the early summer.The expression “Finding herbs on the field during Xiaoman, everyone is busy and the ‘three types of car’ keep moving” portrays an vivid picture of women working on their silk reeling machines. At the same time, the fruit of the oil corps are sent to the oil mill, and people are irrigating their farms with waterwheels. This is known as the “Three types of car that move at Xiaoman” in the lower reaches of the Yangtze River. The “three types of car” refers to the silk reeling machine, oil press and the waterwheels, which were of great assistance in farm work.
The “Three types of car”
The weather has turned moist and sultry at this time of the year. Some cool, fresh and Yin-nourishing foods such as cucumber and wax gourd are traditionally recommended, as they’re believed to eliminate dampness and heat. In the past, folks ate bitter herbs grown in the wild for the same reason. People may resort to excessive cold food due to the heat. However, the principles of Chinese medicine suggest it will probably cause a stomachache. It also helps to jog, stroll or take some Tai Ji. Strenuous exercise which causes a working up of sweat can cause both Yin and Yang to wax and wane at Xiaoman. Therefore, they should be avoided.