Why do the Chinese tend to eat dumplings or rice ball soup on certain dates?
The answer comes down to 24 solar terms, which were added Wednesday to the UNESCO list of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
(Realted: UNESCO inscribes China's '24 Solar Terms' on Intangible Cultural Heritage list)
What exactly are the 24 solar terms?
Put simply, they are a list of terms central to a calendar created in ancient China. Based on the movement of the sun, the calendar divides the year into 24 segments to guide farming over the four seasons.
The Yellow River Basin, in northern China, is believed to be the cradle of the solar terms system. Ancient Chinese farmers used astronomical signs, changes in temperature and precipitation as the basis to create the calendar, which was later adopted by multiple ethnic groups in different regions across China.
As a unique knowledge system of the Chinese people, the 24 solar terms have had a deep impact on Chinese people's way of thinking and behavior for thousands of years, and are considered an important part of the Chinese cultural identity.
In the current time of technology-based modern farming, traditional solar terms remain relevant, especially in Chinese cultural and social life. It is also not uncommon for a patriarch to remind members of the family to put on warmer clothes on the start date of "Frost Descent"; mothers may cook glutinous rice dumplings when "Winter Solstice" arrives.
This legacy reflects the Chinese people's respect for nature and tradition, their unique understanding of the universe, their wisdom to live in harmony with nature, and the world's cultural diversity, said Zhang Ling, an official with the Ministry of Culture, who attended the UNESCO meeting in Addis Ababa.
She said the Chinese government will take this inscription as a starting point to elevate the protection of this intangible cultural heritage, and let more people around the world to know the lunar-solar calendar system.
Some of the solar terms and their meaning are listed below. Note that the start dates vary in the Gregorian calendar.
Beginning of Spring (Lichun), Feb. 3-5;
Rain Water (Yushui), Feb. 18-20, meaning the start of rain;
Insects Awakening (Jingzhe), March 5-7, meaning hibernating worms come to life;
Grain in Ear (Mangzhong), June 5-7, meaning wheat grows ripe;
Greater Heat (Dashu), July 22-24, meaning the hottest time of year;
White Dew (Bailu), Sept. 7-9, meaning dew curdles and it starts to get cold;
First Frost (Shuangjiang), Oct. 23-24, meaning frost begins to descend;
Beginning of Winter (Lidong), Nov. 7-8;
Winter Solstice (Dongzhi), Dec. 21-23, meaning the shortest day of the year;
Greater Cold (Dahan), Jan. 20-21, meaning the coldest day of the year.