Friday, 3 February 2017

The solar terms defined

It is appropriate that today, being technically the first day of the Chinese New Year according to the lunisolar calendar, should be devoted to me saying something about the Solar Term.

The Solar Term is an ancient Chinese invention. But before I say anything else, I should first mention that just like the earth can be divided into 360 imaginary longitudinal degrees, so can the heavens above us.

Through thousands of years, the learned astrologers in ancient China made it into their art form. They divided the heavens, or sky, into 360 degrees with the zero-degree celestial longitude defined by the Vernal or Spring equinox, corresponding with the start of the new year in the Chinese lunisolar calendar.

The Chinese astrologers went further by grouping the heavens into 24 solar terms, with each solar term corresponding to 15 degrees of the sky. During the year, the sun will be seen to transit from one solar term to the next.

In technical terms, the Coming of Spring or Li Chun (立春) (or as we say in Penang Hokkien, Lip Chun) occurs on the first day of the first Chinese solar term when the sun crosses the 315-degree celestial longitude which is usually on a fourth of February. (There are occasional variations, like in this year which Li Chun occurs today, 03 February 2017. I had elaborated on this here.) The true Chinese New Year actually starts on this day, irrespective of the new moon's appearance any time between the 21st of January and 19th of February.

Likewise, we know that the Clear and Bright festival or Qing Ming (清明) (or Cheng Beng) takes place on the first day of the fifth solar term (sun crossing the 15-degree celestial longitude), usually on a fifth of April. I say "usually" because every now and then, there may be a one-day difference. Note: Cheng Beng occurs 45 days after Lip Chun.

Another pertinent point of interest in the Chinese lunisolar calendar is the Winter Solstice or Dong Zhi (冬至) (or Tang Chik) on the first day of the 22nd solar term when the sun crosses the 270-degree celestial longitude usually on the 22nd of December. Note: Tung Chik occurs 45 days before Lip Chun.

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