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Proverbs and Poems in Winter Solstice

Expressing My Feelings after Reading My Old Poems on the Winter Solstice

By the Qianlong Emperor (Qing Dynasty)

Quietly listening to the sandglass in the palace from far away,
I stay at my study for a while, free from the state affairs.
I want to find some lines to describe the clean scenery,
The cold fragrance of the plum blossom comes just in time.
In my spare time, I check the books and writings accumulated on my desk,
Hoping to pick up the old knowledge again.
In the middle of the night, I write some lines down with the ash of incense growing,
To celebrate that there is one more yang in heaven.

As the Winter Solstice was once the first day of a new year, the people of ancient China treated this day like the Spring Festival and used the natural phenomena to forecast the droughts and floods, harvests and crop failures of the next year. These psychic forecasts can be divided into the following categories:

Observing the shadows:

It is recorded in Yi gua tong yan (Interpretation of Divinatory Symbols) and Xiong Xian Zhi (Records of Xiong County) that “the shadow is in compliance with the measure. On the Winter Solstice, set up eight statues of gods and eight measures. At midday, observe the shadow. If it is the same as the measure, then the weather of next year will be smooth and people will live a good life. If it surpasses the measure, there will be a flood; if not, there will be a drought.”

Observing the clouds:

Tao zhu gong shu (Book of Taozhugong): “Observing the clouds on the Winter Solstice at dawn: If blue or green clouds appear, the country will be prosperous and the people will be at peace; if red clouds appear, there will be drought; if black clouds appear, there will be floods; and if yellow clouds appear, there will be a good harvest, and if there are no clouds, it is an ill omen.”

Yi gua tong yan (Interpretation of Divinatory Symbols): “If the clouds welcome the sun, the weather next year will be smooth, people will be at peace, and there will be no epidemic disease; if there are no clouds, next year will be hard for people. Red clouds bring drought, black ones bring floods, white ones bring ice and yellow ones bring a good harvest.”

Observing the wind:

Tao zhu gong shu (Book of Taozhugong): “Observing the wind on the Winter Solstice: the south wind means the crops will be expensive, the north wind means a good harvest, the west wind means the rice will be ripe, the southeast wind will bring dense fog and abundant raindrops, the southwest wind will bring a long time of cloudy days. An old saying goes, ‘The southwest wind will bring cloudy days and the continuous rain will last till the Qingming.’”

Raoyang xian zhi (Records of Raoyang County): “The east wind on the Winter Solstice will bring disaster to people, the south wind will raise the price of crops, the west wind will blow the rice ripe and the north wind will bring a good harvest.”

Suning xian zhi (Records of Suning): “The wind from the south will be evil and people will suffer from diseases and the wind that comes at night will bring no harm to the people.”

Observing the sunny or rainy weather:

Nongzheng quanshu (Dictionary of Farm Affairs): “There is saying that goes, ‘The sunny Winter Solstice will bring a wet year’, ‘The clean Winter Solstice will bring messy year’, or ‘A sunny Winter Solstice will bring a wet new year, and the farm work will be easy.’”

Nongsang Jiyao (The Summary of Farming and Sericulture): “fog on Winter Solstice will bring drought next year.”

Observing the snow:

The custom of Xixiang County in Shaanxi: “On Winter Solstice, people will go to the Bashan Mountain to observe the snow to forecast the harvest or crop failures of next year.”

Jiading xian zhi (Record of Jiading County): “The snow in the last month of the year is cover, while the snow in the spring is disaster. Snow on Winter Solstice will bring a good harvest next year, for it will kill the pests.”

Observing the price of rice:

Jiading xian zhi (Record of Jiading County) and Nongsang Jiyao (the Summary of Farming and Sericulture): “People like to see the price of the rice rise before the Winter Solstice. As the saying goes: ‘The price rises, the poor people could bring up their children more easily; if the price of the rice drops before the winter, the poor people will have to sell their children.’”

Other methods: Nongsang Jiyao (The Summary of Farming and Sericulture): “If people want to know the growth condition of the crops next year, on the Winter Solstice they will put all kinds of seeds in the bag and put them in the vault. Five days later, the bag will be brought out, and the one with more sprouts is the one that should be planted next year.”

Yixian zhi (Record of Yi County): “On the Winter Solstice, the peasant will check the root of the wheat and if the white sprout is longer, then there will be a good harvest.”

Ziyang xian zhi (Record of Ziyang County): “People fix the cooking stove to pray for longevity on Winter Solstice.”

To Anjie on the Winter Solstice
By Su Shi (Song Dynasty)

I have already experienced many Winter Solstices,
While my childhood still seems like yesterday.
When I was young, I used to serve the brothers of my father,
Kowtowing to congratulate them on their birthdays made my knees ache.
I have come to the fading of life these years
The gray hair has grown and due to all kinds of diseases,
I am becoming older.
My father has three brothers, While I only have one.
The nearest relatives are on the other side of the river,
The furthest one is at the end of the world.
Today how lucky I am,
To meet a nephew from so far away
I still remember when you were a little child,
You cried and laughed for pears and chestnuts.
Now you are so imposing,
With will that is hard as iron.
The grandchildren have already grown up,
There is no end to this cycle
I feel detached after finishing this poem,
While my tears can’t stop.

Su Shi (苏轼) (January 8, 1037 – August 24, 1101), was a writer, poet, artist, calligrapher, pharmacologist, and statesman of the Song Dynasty, and one of the major poets of the Song era. His courtesy name was Zizhan (子瞻) and his pseudonym was Dongpo Jushi (东坡居士), and he is often referred to as Su Dongpo (苏东坡).

Su Shi was born in Meishan, near Mount Emei in what is now Sichuan province. His brother Su Zhe (苏辙) and his father Su Xun (苏洵) were both famous literati. Su’s early education was conducted under a Taoist priest at a local village school. Later in his childhood, he studied under his mother, herself a highly educated woman. Su married at age 17. In 1057, when Su was 19, he and his brother passed the (highest-level) civil service examinations to attain the degree of jinshi, a prerequisite for high government office. His accomplishments at such a young age attracted the attention of Ouyang Xiu, who became Su’s patron thereafter. Ouyang had already been known as an admirer of Su Xun, sanctioning his literary style at court and stating that no other pleased him more. When the 1057 jinshi examinations were given, Ouyang Xiu required—without prior notice—that candidates were to write in the ancient prose style when answering questions on the Confucian classics. The Su brothers gained high honors for what were deemed impeccable answers and achieved celebrity status.

Winter Solstice
By Du Fu (Tang Dynasty)

Every year, I pass the winter solstice alone in a foreign land,
Every day, I suffer from depression and sorrow.
In this place, I am the poorest and oldest one.
Everywhere in the world, families get together this day.
With my walking stick, I climb on the hill to watch the snowy scenery,
Imagining myself in jade, leaving the palace after meeting with the Emperor.

About the poet:
Du Fu (Chinese: 杜甫, 712–770) was a prominent Chinese poet of the Tang Dynasty. Along with Li Bai (Li Bo), he is frequently called the greatest of the Chinese poets. His greatest ambition was to serve his country as a successful civil servant, but he proved unable to make the necessary accommodations. His life, like the whole country, was devastated by the An Lushan Rebellion of 755, and his last 15 years were a time of almost constant unrest.

Although initially he was little known to other writers, his works came to be hugely influential in both Chinese and Japanese literary culture. Of his poetic writing, nearly fifteen hundred poems have been preserved over the ages. He has been called the “Poet-Historian” and the “Poet-Sage” by Chinese critics, while the range of his work has allowed him to be introduced to Western readers as “the Chinese Virgil, Horace, Ovid, Shakespeare, Milton, Burns, Wordsworth, Béranger, Hugo or Baudelaire”.

Most of what is known of Du Fu’s life comes from his poems. His paternal grandfather was Du Shenyan, a noted politician and poet during the reign of Empress Wu. He was born in 712; his birthplace is unknown, except that it was near Luoyang, Henan province (Gong county is a favorite candidate). Later in his life, he considered himself to belong to the capital city of Chang’an, the ancestral hometown of the Du family.

Du Fu’s mother died shortly after he was born, and he was partially raised by his aunt. He had an elder brother, who died young. He also had three half brothers and one half sister, to whom he frequently refers in his poems, although he never mentions his stepmother.
Every piece of my heart is breaking,
I have lost the way to the capital.

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