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Jingzhe: the awakening of insects

Do you remember the spectacular opening ceremony of the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics? It glittered with Chinese culture from the very start when a 24-second countdown performance was staged, with each second representing one of the 24 solar terms.

The 24 solar terms embody the ancient Chinese wisdom of observing nature, represent a picturesque landscape as the seasons of spring, summer, autumn and winter change, and reflect Chinese people’s outlook on life and cosmology. Today TBC would introduce you to the third term of the 24 solar terms – Jingzhe (惊蛰).

As March arrives, nature welcomes the Jingzhe, or the Awakening of Insects, which falls on March 5 and ends on March 19 this year. In traditional Chinese folklore, the spring thunderstorms will startle the hibernating insects, hence the arrival of Jingzhe marks an increase in insect activity.

Actually, it is the rise in temperature that awakens insects, not the spring thunderstorm. Insects, like other hibernating animals, will gradually wake up and resume their activity when the temperature is getting warmer. Most sections of China have the fastest rise in temperatures during this time, with average temperatures reaching above 10 degrees Celsius and a significant increase in sunshine, which provides ideal farming conditions. Old Chinese sayings such as “once the Awakening of Insects comes, spring plowing never rests” reveal the importance of this term to farmers.

Except spring plowing, Jingzhe is also a good time for fishing. This is because fish would swim from deep water to shallow water in search of food, mating and carrying offspring. Therefore, it is usually a perfect weekend for people living in the city to drive to the suburbs and fish in a lake with sunbathing and birds singing.

Eating pears around the time of the Jingzhe is a common habit in China. People’s mouths and tongues get parched and dry when the weather warms and the air becomes dryer, which can lead to colds or coughs. Because pears are sweet, juicy, and cool, they can moisten the lungs and help to stop coughing. Pears are therefore strongly suggested during the Jingzhe.

In Guangdong Province and Hong Kong, there is also a popular folk ritual called “Villain hitting” (打小人). Originated in the Tang Dynasty, villain hitting is practiced to expel the villain and bring good luck to ourselves – it’s a yin-yang (阴阳) way of thinking. People frequently designate a “witch” (villain hitter, usually an elderly woman) to conquer the villains. They use human-shaped paper to represent “villains” in their lives, and the “witch” would hit the paper with shoes or other objects to expel bad luck. It has been preliminarily included in the list of “intangible cultural heritage” by the Hong Kong Home Affairs Bureau, and was selected as “Best Way to Get It Off Your Chest” in TIME magazine’s 2009 “Best of Asia” feature.

You can usually find villain hitters on Hennessy Road section in Hong Kong, under Canal Road Flyover in Causeway Bay, where they may press a paper figurine down on a stack of bricks with one hand and raise an old slipper to the sky with the other, murmuring some spells.

Pictures from South China Morning Post

By Suemmer Luo, TBC Intern