Winter is coming, as autumn is here
Believe it or not, it’s already autumn in China. August 7 marked the beginning of the fall season according to the 24 solar terms (二十四节气), a traditional Chinese supplementary calendar used to guide agricultural activities. Created during the Han Dynasty (206 B.C.- 220 A.D.), the calendar details 24 points in a year that coincide with seasonal change or a particular natural phenomenon, such as dashu (大暑), the great heat, or in this case liqiu (立秋), the beginning of autumn. Over time, various traditions came to be associated with the 24 solar terms and some of them are celebrated as festivals.
Also called the July Festival (七月节) because it often falls in July by the lunar calendar, liqiu essentially marks the start of the harvest season, and it’s thought that there is no better way to celebrate this landmark event than gobbling up as much nourishing food as possible. Customs vary according to where you are in China. Below, we list a few of the most common below to help you get your munch on in appropriate style.
Adding Autumn Fat (贴秋膘)
In Beijing, Hebei Province and other northern areas, tradition dictates that people should stock up on filling food to make up for weight lost during the appetite-sapping hot summer season. Kids are weighed on scales to see if they’ve become lighter compared with the beginning of summer. If they prove to have slimmed down, the past summer is decreed a “bitter summer (苦夏 kǔ xià)”. To stay healthy, that lost body weight has to be restored, and eating revitalizing food is the answer. Stew is a common choice, but there are a number of other options, including boiled pork slices (白切肉), braised pork (红焖肉) and dumplings with meat stuffing. Whatever you choose, be it chicken, duck or fish, the abiding principle is to “add fat with meat (以肉贴膘)!”
Autumn Bites (咬秋)
Eating watermelon with the entire family is another common tradition at this time of year. Fruit is an important part of the Chinese diet to keep healthy, particularly in Tianjin, where eating watermelon on this day is believed to prevent diarrhea during the coming winter and following spring. Several bites of the watermelon can also help ward off the last of the summer heat.
In Hangzhou, people eat peaches at the beginning of autumn, but save the seeds and later burn them on Spring Festival Eve. It is said to prevent plague for the entire year.
In Shandong Province, families serve bean curd residue, heeding the popular (and catchy) saying: “吃了立秋的渣，大人孩子不呕也不拉 (bean curd residue on the day autumn begins will prevent adults and kids from gastrointestinal diseases.)”
Meanwhile, in Sichuan Province, people put a few red beans in water and drink it on this day. The brew is called “立秋水 (autumn begins water),” and also serves the purpose of dispelling summer heat.