In my last article, I wrote about one of the Twenty-Four Solar Terms in August, 立秋 (Lap Cau) Autumn, which commenced on the 8th of August. This time, I am exploring the lesser-known solar term of this month, 處暑 (Cyu Syu) End of Heat, which begins on the 23rd of August this year. As the name indicates, the End of Heat signifies the end of summer, when the weather begins to cool and humidity decreases.
One practice on this day since ancient times is to go out and appreciate the clouds. As summer is ending, the clouds become fluffier and more scattered, creating a more beautiful sky. So, on the day of Cyu Syu, it was customary to go cloud-watching. As the weather will become drier and there will be less rainfall, this day also reminded people in ancient times, to stock up on water.
Cyu Syu always falls within the ghost month, the seventh month in the lunar calendar, so some of the customs of End of Heat are closely related to the ghost month. In some places in China, people set up an altar on Cyu Syu to offer food and wine to their ancestors. However, it is hard to trace whether this practice is a custom for the End of Heat or the seventh month. Another ghost-month-related custom on Cyu Syu is sending lotus flower lanterns. It is believed that the souls in hell or souls that are still wandering around earth needed guidance to move on to the next life. On Cyu Syu, people would put candles on floating bases (known as lotus flower lanterns) and let them float in the water. If a lost soul got hold of one of the lanterns, it would guide the soul to reincarnate.
The End of Heat is also an important agricultural signifier. For farmers, it is the time for harvest, so they worship the land god on this day, and I have read that in some places, farmers purposely do not wash their feet on the day so that an abundant harvest will not be washed away. For fishermen, the End of Heat is followed by the best time for fishing, so they celebrate the opening of the fishing season on Cyu Syu, and people in the village would have a big send-off ceremony as the fishermen would sail off for their best harvest of the year.
Aside from the agricultural and ghost-month-related practices, Cyu Syu is also the time for nurturing good health. In some places, the practice is to eat longan with watery rice. According to Chinese medical practice, longan is good for the heart and stomach, and for recovery of chi (energy). In summer, we use up lots of energy because of the hot weather, and the End of Heat is the time to recover our energy. So, it is customary to eat longan with rice on the day.
We have a Chinese saying: “drinking sour plum soup on Cyu Syu, all ‘internal heat’ will go away” (it rhymes in Chinese). Therefore, in many Chinese places, even in Macau up until the 1970s, I have heard, it was usual for people to set up shop on the street during Cyu Syu just to sell sour plum soup. Eating duck is also a long-held tradition of Cyu Syu because of the many medical benefits of duck relating to relieving internal heat. This tradition is especially popular in Beijing, whether for health purposes or not; on the End of Heat, people in Beijing will buy “Cyu Syu duck” to celebrate the season. Perhaps this year, we too can celebrate Cyu Syu by eating duck or longan with rice, drink some sour plum soup, and watch the clouds to keep some forgotten traditions alive.