EARLIER this month, UNESCO added China’s 24 solar terms in its list of intangible cultural heritage. Ancient China had divided the sun’s annual motion into 24 segments, giving each segment a specific solar term.
The terms are of particular importance to farmers and have probably influenced people’s way of thinking and code of conduct. Some rituals and festivities are associated with the terms, contributing to the communities’ cultural identities. Meanwhile, the 24 solar terms clearly embody the concepts of people’s respect for nature, and harmony between human beings and nature.
Zhejiang Province made a list that contains 24 sceneries corresponding to different solar terms. People can head out to specific sights based on the ideal solar term. Shanghai Daily has drawn up a list of places to visit accordingly. The following are the six places to visit. We will publish another six next week.
Winter Solstice @ Xitang Town
Winter Solstice falls between December 21 and 23 when night is the longest. In ancient times, Chinese believed that the Winter Solstice was the day when yin (cold energy) began dropping and yang (hot energy) began ascending — a new start and a day when people pay their respects to the dead by visiting cemeteries and sweeping tombs.
Traditional Chinese medicine considered it necessary to add inner yang energy during this solar term. For Xitang Town locals, it is a tradition to drink rice wine to remove the inner cold on this day. Its history of brewing wine dates back to 300 years.
In addition, the town is also renowned for its watertown. It is crisscrossed by watercourses and covered with old folk houses, which feature black-tiled roofs and white walls. Winter Solstice is a big day for natives. They hang red paper lanterns at doorways and draw ink paintings as a sign of good luck.
Slight Cold @ Kuocang Hill
Slight Cold falls on January 5 or 6. Temperature usually drops to the lowest point on that day. Zhejiang Province, where little snow falls and temperatures are rarely below zero for long, may not seem the obvious place for a snowy outing.
However, Kuocang Hill provides people with the romantic snow world as the freezing north wind drives straight in every winter. Vegetation is wrapped in hoar frost and crystal rimes on tree branches shine in the sunshine.
As the easternmost continental point in China, photographers flock to capture the first ray of sunrise. People don’t have to get up at the crack of dawn to appreciate Kuocang, since the hill is also renowned for mist that often drapes all or part of its slopes. The shrouded mist adds a mysterious light to the landscape.
Beginning of Spring
@ Chaoshan Hill
This solar term signifies the beginning of spring, when eastern winds begin to melt ice and hibernating insects wake up. The tradition of welcoming spring dates back to 3,000 years when people hosted rituals to celebrate the beginning of the year.
Viewing plum blossom is a traditional activity during this period. Plum blossoms are synonymous with brave and dauntless spirit as they always bloom in cold days.
For Hangzhou natives, the best location for appreciating the flowers is Chaoshan Hill, where more than 100,000 plum trees blossom as winter turns into spring. These plum trees are known for their striking shapes, and the mountain is the home to two ancient plum trees: Tangmei, planted in the Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907), and Songmei, planted in the Song Dynasty (960-1279).
Great Cold @ Wuyi
Great Cold falls between January 19 and 21. Rainfall reaches a minimum this time. During this solar term, farmers protect crops by covering them with a layer of plant ash, and begin preparations for cultivation in spring.
It is the perfect time for soothing body in hot spring during cold days. Wuyi County is known for its hot springs. It produces 2,415 tons of hot water daily at temperatures ranging from 36 to 45 degrees Celsius. The hot spring water features a neutral pH value of 7-8 and it contains more than 20 mineral fluorites. The water has a slight greenish-blue hue due to the mineral content.
Insects Awaken @ Anji
Traditional Chinese folklore says that during this solar term, thunderstorm wakes up the hibernating insects, implying that the weather is getting warmer and warmer.
In addition, the thunderstorm also brings natural gifts for the locals — numerous bamboo shoots spring from the ground and grow overnight. The best place to savor fresh bamboo shoots is Anji County.
It has been dubbed “home of bamboo” for centuries. Mountain ranges are covered with lush bamboo forests that have lured many gastronomes to take a bite of the succulent spring specialty.
Rain Water @ Nanxun
It is from this solar term that rainfall and temperature begin to rise. In ancient times, women would visit parents and give them a piece of red cloth and a bowl of pork stewed with soy sauce to express their appreciation. The tradition still continues in some ancient towns, like Nanxun Town in northern Zhejiang.
The watertown is considered enchanting during rainy days as the slab-paved roads are moist and covered with lichen and raindrops sprinkle from the up-turned eaves.
The town attracts a huge number of tourists, many of whom come to appreciate its characteristic charms. With its stone bridges, ivy-covered arches, lofty trees, antiqued buildings, bonsai and ponds, the town embodies the traditions of Jiangnan — or regions in the lower reaches of the Yangtze River Delta — style architecture and garden.