Chinese 24 Solar Terms

Traditionally, the pace of Chinese people’s life was rhythemed by the 24 Solar Terms, which divide each lunar month into 2 segments based on the sun’s movement. Chinese farmers schedule their farming work according to these seasonal turning points.

It is a great invention that has ensured people in China are adequately fed and Chinese civilisation is able to continue and upgrade for thousands of years.

In November 30, 2018, the 24 Solar Terms was added to the UNESCO list of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

The relationship between 24 Solar Terms and 12 Western Zodiacs

Beginning of Spring – the 1st of 24 Chinese Solar Terms

Beginning of Spring, normally occurred between February 3 and 5, is the first solar term in the year.

It is commonly understood that Chinese year begins on the first day of the first lunar month (Chinese New Year’s Day), but the actual commencement of a Chinese new year is the Beginning of Spring (立春), the day when the sun enters the 315 degree on the tropical zodiac.

The reason for this is because there are yin (the moon) and yang (the sun) two aspects involved when the time dimension is measured by ancient Chinese.

While lunar year, month, day and time are based on the position of the moon, the solar terms that mark the transition of the season are calculated according to the sun’s movement.

In the ancient China, the New Year’s Day was decided not according to the lunar calendar but the solar term, so the Beginning of Spring was the New Year’s Day. In the hugely popular Chinese TV drama Nirvana in Fire, a round moon is clearly visible in the night sky on the New Year’s Eve. It’s not a bug, but a historical fact.

“Dr Yan, we are celebrating the new year tonight,” Mei Changsu (by Hu Ge), a professional kingmaker, urged his personal GP to toast wine and take dumplings at New Year’s Eve dinner — a scene from Chinese TV drama Nirvana In Fire

Ancient Chinese used to hold a state-sponsored prayer ritual to honour the actual commencement of the year since that is the most significant annual seasonal turning point. From that day on, the temperature in most part of China begins to rise, and the earth in the middle and low reaches of the Yangtze River, the cradle of Chinese culture and the birthplace of Chinese calendar, starts to defrost; although given the vast size of China, in the up north that includes Beijing, the tangible signs of spring can not be detected until March (lunar February), while in the semitropical southern tips like Guangdong and Hainan, talking about the start of spring might seem a bit meaningless as the winter never truly descends there.

The earliest written reference to the Start of Spring ritual was found in the Yinxu burial site dating back 3000 years during Zhou Dynasty. It started by the emperor fasting for three days prior to the occasion, then on that very day he would lead his hight officials marching eastward eight lis (four kilometres) out of the capital city to personally welcome the arrival of the spring, and to negotiate a joint effort to make the coming year a prosperous one.

During the Han Dynasty (206 BC – 220 AD), the Start of Spring became a nationwide social event, with cattle receiving a VIP status and being the central theme of the whole festivity. A young man would be chosen to play the role of the Spirit of Spring (芒神), wielding a willow branch while parading alongside the animal star.

In later days, this elaborate ritual was replaced by a less theatrical performance: hanging a painting that depicts a cattle driven down the farmland by a boy cowherd. Such illustration can still be found in many Chinese calendar books published every year.

Peasants in Jiangxi Province – home to the greatest feng shui masters in Chinese history – having a Beginning of Spring celebration in farmland.

Rain – the 2nd of 24 Chinese Solar Terms

It stars around February 19 when the Sun reaches the celestial longitude of 333°.

By then the temperature begins to rise and rainfall increases, preparing the land for the sowing season.

Thunder – the 3rd of 24 Chinese Solar Terms


It stars on March 5 or 6 when the sun reaches the celestial longitude of 345°.

At that time the diapausing insects in a dormant state during the winter wake up by thunders and storms, and most regions in China get into the spring plowing season.

Spring Equinox – the 4th of 24 Chinese Solar Terms

It stars on March 20 or 21 when the sun reaches the celestial longitude of 0°, the time when the sun shines directly on the equator and the length of day and night is nearly equal.

In the classic Zhou Dynasty (1046BC-256BC), Spring Equinox was the day to hold a state ceremony paying respect to the sun.

Fresh & Bright – the 5th of 24 Chinese Solar Terms

It stars on April 5 when the sun reaches the celestial longitude of 15°. By then the spring is in full swing.

Since 2,500 years ago during the late Zhou Dynasty, the beginning of the Fresh & Bright became the day for families to enjoy picnic in natural environment, including tidying up the bombs of the deceased family members.

Grain Rain – the 6th of 24 Chinese Solar Terms

It stars on April 20 or 21 when the sun reaches the celestial longitude of 30°. By then the spring is on its last leg.

Beginning of Summer – the 7th of 24 Chinese Solar Terms

It stars on May 5 or 6 when the sun reaches the celestial longitude of 45°.

The historical records show that Chinese started to observe Beginning of Summer since the Warring States era more than 2,300 years ago.

In some regions of China, such as Shanghai and its surrounding areas, on that day kids are offered boiled eggs, often with shells coloured in red or other bright colours. The eggs may be packed in a little silk net bag and hung from little ones’ neck. Allegedly it would have a positive effect on keeping young children healthy in the disease-ridden season of summer.

Grain Buds (Small Full) – the 8th of 24 Chinese Solar Terms

It stars on May 5 or 6 when the sun reaches the celestial longitude of 60°.

By then the grain seeds grow into buds but are not yet ripe.

Grain in Ear – the 9th of 24 Chinese Solar Terms

It stars on June 5 or 6 when the sun reaches the celestial longitude of 75°.

This is the busiest season in China’s most rural areas, as summer ripe crops need to be harvested, the seeds of the autumn ripe crops have to be sowed, while other yet to ripe crops require a constant care.

Summer Solstice – the 10th of 24 Chinese Solar Terms

It stars on June 21 or 22 when the sun reaches the celestial longitude of 90°.

Summer Solstice is the first solar term to be established in China since 600 BC during the Zhou Dynasty.

Minor Heat – the 11th of 24 Chinese Solar Terms

It stars on July 7 or 8 when the sun reaches the celestial longitude of 105°.

Major Heat – the 12th of 24 Chinese Solar Terms

It stars on July 22 or 24 when the sun reaches the celestial longitude of 120°.

This period is the hottest time in China, while the crops grow fastest. It is also the time when droughts, floods and typhoon disasters are most likely to occur.

Start of Autumn – the 13th of 24 Chinese Solar Terms

It stars between August 7 and 9 when the sun reaches the celestial longitude of 135°.

From that day on, leafs of Wutong (Firmiana simplex) and other deciduous trees begin to fall.

Limit of Heat- the 14th of 24 Chinese Solar Terms

It stars around August 23 when the sun reaches the celestial longitude of 150°, by then the summer officially ends.

During this period, a Ghost Festival in lunar 15 is held. Traditionally on that day Chinese would sail off paper boats loaded with candles and the note with the name of the deceased as well as their wishes to the rivers, lakes or streams.

White Dew – the 15th of 24 Chinese Solar Terms

It stars between September 7 and 9 when the sun reaches the celestial longitude of 165°.

Autumnal Equinox – the 16th of 24 Chinese Solar Terms

It stars between September 22 and 24 when the sun reaches the celestial longitude of 180°, shining directly on the equator, as the result the length of day and night is nearly equal.

The Moon Day on lunar July 15 occurs during this term. By then the moon in the northern hemisphere appears to be at its brightest and roundest.

Cold Dew – the 17th of 24 Chinese Solar Terms

It stars between October 8 and 10 when the sun reaches the celestial longitude of 195°.

Frost Descent – the 18th of 24 Chinese Solar Terms

It stars between October 23 and 24 when the sun reaches the celestial longitude of 210°.

Beginning of Winter – the 19th of 24 Chinese Solar Terms

It stars between November 7 and 8 when the sun reaches the celestial longitude of 225°.

During the Han Dynasty (202BC-220AD) and Three Kingdoms Era (immediately followed), on that day the emperor would hold a memorial service for those died in wars when defending the nation, and offer financial support to war widows and their families.

Minor Snow – the 20th of 24 Chinese Solar Terms

It stars between November 22 and 23 when the sun reaches the celestial longitude of 240°.

Major Snow – the 21th of 24 Chinese Solar Terms

It stars between December 6 and 8 when the sun reaches the celestial longitude of 255°.

Winter Solstice – the 22th of 24 Chinese Solar Terms

It stars between December 21 and 23 when the sun reaches the celestial longitude of 270°.

Winter Solstice is the first solar term among the 24 to be recognized by Chinese 3,000 years ago when Zhou Dynasty surveyed the sun shadow to determine the most suitable location for its capital city.

It is also considered the most important seasonal turning point in a year, as from that day on, the trend of yin-yang development reverses. Chilly and cold Yin power, though is at the peak of its seemingly irrepressible strength and dominates the half of the planet, faces an irreparable downhill journey. While a warm and lively Yang force starts to grow by the day.

A new annual circle thus begins.

During the era between Zhou Dynasty and Han Dynasty, for over a thousand years, Winter Solstice was China’s new year’s day.

Although later new year’s day was relocated to the Beginning of Spring, the first solar term, then the beginning of lunar year, Winter Solstice was still regarded as the most optimal time to pay tributes to heavens and ancestors.

Minor Cold – the 23th of 24 Chinese Solar Terms

It stars between January 5 and 7 when the sun reaches the celestial longitude of 285°.

Major Cold – the 24th of 24 Chinese Solar Terms

It stars between January 5 and 7 when the sun reaches the celestial longitude of 300°.

This term marks the end of an annual circle.

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