Dàshǔ 大暑, or Taisho in Japanese, Daeseo in Korean, or Đại thử in Vietnamese is the 12th solar term. It refers in particular to the day the Sun is at the celestial longitude of 120°. In the Gregorian calendar, it will begin this year on July 23 and end around 7 August.
During Major Heat, most parts of China enter the hottest season of the year. During Major Heat, the sunshine, high temperatures, and heavy rainfall promote rapid growth in agricultural crops. But like Minor Heat, many natural calamities such as floods, droughts and typhoons also happen during Major Heat. Therefore, the timing of harvest and planting is critical to avoid setbacks caused by natural disasters. This is especially true in parts of China where two rice crops are planted. People have to harvest the early season rice and plant the late season rice at the right time. The early season rice must be harvested before the thunderstorm wind and rain can knock down the ripened grain heads. The planting of the late season rice should be done before the end of July, so it gets a good start and has a better chance of producing a good crop. In the middle and lower reaches of the Changjiang River, the Major Heat is a time of summer droughts. There is a saying in this region which goes “The rain in Minor Heat is as precious as silver; while the rain in Major Heat is as precious as gold.” These people have to respond energetically to dry spells with irrigation.
This is the hottest time of the year. There is a saying about Major Heat that says “There is no gentleman in Minor Heat and Major Heat.” It means that people have to take off their clothes due to the extreme heat without worrying about losing face. Keeping cool is a major focus.
In Taizhou, Zhejiang province there is a famous celebration during Major Heat. It is a folk tradition spanning hundreds of years. The Major Heat ship is a boat sea filled with various sacrifices of food and other items. More than 50 fishermen take turns carrying the ship as they march through the streets toward the sea. Drums are played and fireworks are lit. Both sides of the street are filled with people praying for blessings. After a set of special ceremonies, the ship is brought to the wharf, launched into the water and towed out of the fishing port and burned at sea. People believe this ritual will bring good harvests and health.
Major Heat is a season with the largest number of crickets which are found and collected in the fields out in the countryside. Cricket fighting is a popular pastime for some country people in China during this period. The custom dates back more than 1,000 years to the Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907). Some people just keep the crickets in bamboo or other cages to listen to their “music”. This too has a long and elaborate history. Even the Imperial family kept crickets as pets and old cricket cages are now collectible antiques.Keeping and fighting crickets was also popular in Japan for many centuries.
Major Heat has it’s customary foods, as with the other solar terms. The custom of eating litchi fruits, which are really refreshing and in season at this time is widespread. Litchi is a nutritious fruit containing glucose and vitamins. People usually soak litchi in cold well water first before eating it. People believe litchi during Major Heat is as nourishing as ginseng. In Putian, Fujian province, one of the customs is that on the day of Major Heat, people cook mizao with brown sugar. Mizao is made of fermented rice. It is believed it can reinforce the vital energy of the human body. The custom in southern Shandong province is to drink mutton soup on the day of Major Heat. Many people go to local restaurants to get this special soup, which is called “summer mutton soup.”
In Taiwan the saying goes “the thing to eat in Major Heat is pineapples.” During this period they are at their best. In Guangdong, however, their saying is, “eating grass jelly in Major Heat will keep you youthful just like the the immortals.”
Grass jelly, “Xiancaodong” in Chinese, is made by boiling the aged and slightly oxidized stalks and leaves of Platostoma palustre with potassium carbonate for several hours with a little starch and then cooling the liquid to a jelly-like consistency. This jelly can be cut into cubes or other forms, and then mixed with syrup to produce a drink or dessert thought to have cooling yin properties. The jelly itself is fragrant, with a smoky undertone, and is a translucent dark brown, sometimes perceived to be black. Food coloring may sometimes be added to make it darker. It is served chilled, with other toppings such as fruit, or in bubble tea or other drinks. It is often difficult to find grass jelly on it’s own but there are many brands of grass jelly drink available in the United States in Asian groceries. It comes in cans and when chilled thoroughly it is cooling but it in no way reaches the goodness of the fresh product. This is too bad because it really does help to cool you in Major Heat.