Two of the 24 Solar Terms in Autumn are surprising. 立秋 (Lap Cau), or Autumn, commences on August 8, and 處暑 (Cyu Syu), End of Heat, on August 23. If memory serves correctly, August has always been the hottest month of the year. Perhaps in some parts of China, the heat is now dying down, or perhaps the 24 Solar Terms created in ancient China have to be rearranged. Unfortunately, that would mean changing the day of important Terms such as the Winter Solstice. So, we have to follow the customs even if the weather is not right now. Let’s explore some cust
oms and practices for Lap Cau, which I believe many people may have heard of, but are not familiar with the traditions of.
In ancient China, Lap Cau was a great festival. In this first Solar Term for Autumn, the Chinese emperor would lead all his court officials on a parade through his capital city. They would then head to the countryside to set up an altar to welcome Autumn. The ancient Chinese divided the two weeks of Lap Cau into three parts, referring to them as the “three awaiting.” First, they would await the arrival of the cool wind. After the cool wind arrived, there would be white dew. As the temperature decreased during the still, humid weather, the humidity at night would form silvery white droplets. That was why the morning dew at this time was referred to as “white dew.” Finally, people awaited the mourning cries of cicadas. It was believed that as the cold weather arrived, cicadas realized that the end of their lifespan during the few weeks over summer was drawing near, so their singing became mournful.
As for eating customs, according to what is considered the most important book of Chinese medicine, Huangdi Neijing, Autumn is the season for “lung maintenance.” To keep our lungs healthy in Autumn, spicy food should be avoided. Sour food could preserve the Chi (internal energy) of the lungs, and spicy food would release the Chi. So, an ancient practice dictated that ginger was not to be consumed during Autumn.
There are many other food-related practices that bring good health or luck during Lap Cau. One interesting practice is to eat peaches and keep the stones of these peaches hidden until the end of the year. People would then burn all the stones together. This custom was believed to prevent plagues.
Another interesting practice in some places is to eat watermelon and drink rice wine together on Lap Cau to prevent malaria. Also, on the day of Lap Cau, the most widely-exercised (food-related) practice in the Tang dynasty was swallowing red beans. There are instructions that need to be followed for this practice. Firstly, the red beans must be swallowed with water from a well. Then, one must face west while swallowing seven to 14 red beans. This was believed to prevent inflammatory diseases of the intestines throughout Autumn.
Also, there was an ancient saying that eating longan on Lap Cau would ensure your children and grandchildren become Zhuangyuan. Zhuangyuan was the one who came first in the annual exam set by the emperor. The Zhuangyuan would be offered a high position in the emperor’s court. In these modern times, perhaps eating longan on Lap Cau would result in your children passing the civil servant exam for a 430-point position in the government departments. So, on August 8, we have to eat a lot of fruit for our health and for the fortune of the next generation.