In the Chinese traditional calendar of solar terms Xiàzhì, known as Geshi in Japanese, Haji in Korean, and Hạ chí in Vietnamese begins on the day of the summer solstice. The solstices, as well as the equinoxes, mark the middle of the seasons in this traditional calendar. Here, the Chinese character zhì 至 means “extreme”, in this case used to imply the farthest limits in the solar orbit, the solstices, so the term for the summer solstice directly signifies the summit of summer. In the Gregorian calendar Xiàzhì 夏至, the 10th solar term of the year, begins on June 21 this year and ends July 7. At this time, much of the northern hemisphere receives the longest daylight, but it does not bring the hottest temperatures, which will come only 20 to 30 days later.
In China, the solar terms were originally created to guide agricultural production. But the solar term culture is still useful today to help people to stay healthy and live in harmony with the changes of the seasons.
The solstice is the longest day of the year. According experts, the entire day in Mohe in Helongjiang province, located in the most northern tip of China, lasts up to 20 hours when you include morning twilight and its afterglow. Summer Solstice is the best season for viewing the aurora in Mohe, a famous destination known as “the sleepless town of China”. One particular village in Mohe County, in the northernmost reaches of China, hosts an Aurora Festival.
Summer Solstice was an important festival throughout Chinese history. Before the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), people even had a one-day holiday on Summer Solstice. According to Song Dynasty (960-1279) records, officials could have three days off during the Summer Solstice. To celebrate Summer Solstice, women gave colored fans and sachets to each other. Fans could help them feel not so hot and the sachets could drive away mosquitoes and make them smell sweet. As early as the Han Dynasty (260 BCE-220 CE), when the Mid-autumn Festival and the Double Ninth Festival were not as important as they are today, the Summer Solstice was already celebrated.
Hani autonomous county of Mojiang, in southwest China’s Yunnan province is located on the northern tropic. Every year for the Summer Solstice, the sun sits directly over the Tropic of Cancer and returns from north to south. Then, the amazing phenomenon known as “upright pole with no shadows” occurs. The Hani tribal people revere the sun and have always had a close bond with it. They welcome the turn-around of the sun and offer sacrifices to it.
In another part of China, Shandong province, there is a saying which says, “Eat dumplings on the Winter Solstice day and noodles on the Summer Solstice day.” People in different areas of Shandong province eat chilled noodles on this day. Other places around China such as Beijing also have a tradition of eating noodles.
According to the records of the Fengsutong, a book about Chinese customs written by Ying Shao from the Eastern Han Dynasty (AD25-220), a man named Du Xuan attended a banquet on Summer Solstice, where he mistook the shadow of a bow in his cup as a snake. Still he had to drink it out of fear of offending at the banquet. Afterward, he felt chest pains and a bellyache and couldn’t get well even after seeing many doctors. Finally, he learned he had mistaken the shadow of a red crossbow on the wall as a snake in the cup and then recovered. This became the source of the saying used to refer to people who are suspicious and frighten themselves. The idiom “杯弓蛇影 Bēi gōng shé yǐng” is literally “cup bow snake shadow” but everyone uses it to mean extremely suspicious and fearful.
Due to climate factors, in Shaoxing, Zhejiang province, Dragon boat races have been held on the Summer Solstice day rather than on Dragon Boat Festival since the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) dynasties. This tradition is still holds true today. So if you cannot make it to Stonehenge, you have interesting options in China for a summer solstice celebration. Or you can stay home, and relax with a bowl of noodles.