IT will be summer next week when lixia (Summer Begins) hits China, marking an obvious rise in temperatures, frequent thunderstorms and peak season for crops and fruit.
Lixia usually arrives on May 5 or 6, when the sun’s elliptical longitude reaches 45 degrees, indicating the start of a new season. This year, it falls next Friday.
As described in “Li Ji” (“The Book of Rites”), the frogs croak, earthworm work and melons grow at the onset of lixia. Most regions in China then begin to enjoy a warm climate with average temperatures ranging between 18-20 degrees Celsius.
Harvesting crops like rapeseeds, grapes and melons are in their last growing phase, while farmers get busy transplanting rice seedlings.
Since the Zhou Dynasty (1046-256 BC), emperors traditionally welcomed lixia with official ceremonies.
The emperors would lead officials wearing vermilion dresses, with vermilion accessories, horses and flags, and praying for a good harvest, usually in the south of the capital.
On the same day, the emperor would grand ice preserved in the previous winter to the officials as gifts for the coming summer, and order them to encourage farmers’ work.
Weather on this particular day was widely considered a sign for the coming summer. Rain was welcomed as it indicated sufficient water, while a sunny day gave farmers drought fears.
Summer sickness like poor appetite, dizziness and long-term fatigue are common. Therefore diet, with seasonal food, became important.
For example, people in Zhejiang Province eat eggs to boost the heart, bamboo shoots to strengthen legs, and beans to improve eyesight. People in Hunan Province believe that dumplings made of sticky rice and cudweed can help them get strong limbs and light body, while people living in suburban Shanghai make sweet “wheat silkworms” with wheat powder and sugar. In Hubei Province, strawberry, shrimps and bamboo shoots are in high demand.
There are also traditions like piercing ears for the girls, avoiding sitting on the thresholds, and weighing family members.
Hang and eat eggs
On lixia, parents wrap cooked eggs in colorful string bags and hang it on their children’s neck. The children keep the bags the whole day on their neck and eat them at night.
The tradition is said to have originated from a legend of goddess Nuwa as a way of “protecting children from sickness.”
Legend goes that the “plague god” was a lazy person who only worked on lixia. To protect the vulnerable children, Nuwa warned him that he should not hurt children with eggs.
With the plague god defeated, the children happily ate the eggs.
The tradition also led to a game — the egg that broke all others and itself remained intact won the game!
The eggs used for Summer Begins can be chicken’s egg, duck’s egg or even goose’s eggs. Salted duck egg is a preferred choice for its high content of calcium and iron, but tea-flavored boiled chicken egg is more popular for its taste.
Women usually start cooking tea eggs the day before lixia to ensure the flavor immerses the eggs entirely. Apart from tea fragments, spices like fennel seeds, cinnamon and ginger are also widely used for egg cooking.
Weigh the family
In the southern regions, there is a task to complete after lunch on Summer Begins — weighing family members.
The custom reportedly started from the Shu Kingdom during the Three Kingdoms Period (AD 220-280). Meng Huo, a powerful minority tribal leader who was loyal to the Shu Kingdom, visited the king every lixia. He kept visiting the kingdom even after the ruler died and the young prince arrested.
Meng rescued the prince and warned of dire consequences if he found that the prince was ill-treated, so he weighed the prince every time he visited the Jin Kingdom.
Thanks to Meng, the prince lived a safe life. The king of the Jin Kingdom deliberately fed him with tasty sticky rice with beans so that the prince gained weight.
It then became a tradition for common folks praying for a peaceful and safe life. A huge steelyard was usually put up at the entrance of villages for people to weigh themselves. The children were made to sit in a basket. Adults had to hold the steelyard hook tight until the measure was completed.