The Summer Solstice, also known as the June Solstice or the Northern Solstice, is an astronomical event that marks the official beginning of summer in the Northern Hemisphere. In China, the Summer Solstice holds special significance and is celebrated with various cultural traditions and customs. This article aims to explore the significance of the Summer Solstice in China and shed light on the practices associated with this ancient festival.
what day is the summer solstice?
The Summer Solstice is the 10th solar term in the traditional Chinese calendar, known as the “Xia Zhi” in Chinese. It signifies the midpoint of summer. The term “Xia” refers to noon, indicating that the sun reaches its highest point in the sky during this time. The Summer Solstice occurs when the sun’s ecliptic longitude reaches 90 degrees, usually falling on June 21st to 22nd in the Gregorian calendar.
On the day of the Summer Solstice, the sun’s rays directly hit the Earth’s surface at its northernmost position, almost directly over the Tropic of Cancer. As a result, the daylight hours in the northern hemisphere reach their maximum length during this time. For regions located along or north of the Tropic of Cancer, the Summer Solstice represents the day with the highest sun elevation at noon throughout the year.
The Summer Solstice marks a turning point in the sun’s northern journey. After the solstice, the sun’s direct rays begin to move southward from the Tropic of Cancer, causing daylight hours to gradually decrease in the northern hemisphere. For areas in China located north of the Tropic of Cancer, the sun’s elevation at noon starts to decrease day by day after the Summer Solstice. On the other hand, for regions located south of the Tropic of Cancer, the sun’s elevation at noon returns southward after the solstice, reaching its highest point again before gradually decreasing.
The weather characteristics following the Summer Solstice include high temperatures, high humidity, and occasional thunderstorms. Although the Summer Solstice represents the peak of yang energy and the longest daylight hours in the northern hemisphere, it does not necessarily correspond to the hottest day of the year. This is because the accumulated heat near the Earth’s surface has not yet reached its maximum. The Summer Solstice is not only one of the twenty-four solar terms but also a traditional festival in Chinese folklore known as “Si Shi Ba Jie” (the 48 Chinese seasonal customs). In ancient times, people had customs of worshiping deities and ancestors during the Summer Solstice. Additionally, after the solstice, it is common for people to consume cooling soups, herbal teas, and sour plum drinks to beat the summer heat.
in the northern hemisphere, what is the longest day of the year?
In the northern hemisphere, the longest day of the year is the day of the Summer Solstice. This is the day when the sun reaches its highest point in the sky and the daylight hours are the longest. The Summer Solstice usually occurs around June 21st or 22nd each year. After the Summer Solstice, the days gradually become shorter as the sun’s position in the sky shifts towards the south.
what is the significance of the summer solstice?
After the Summer Solstice, the position of the sun’s direct rays gradually shifts southward. For the northern hemisphere, the daylight hours become shorter in many regions, while the duration of nighttime increases. However, because the solar radiation reaching the Earth’s surface is still significant during this time, the temperatures remain relatively high. Hence, there is a saying in Chinese folklore that goes, “It won’t be cool after the Summer Solstice.”
Following the Summer Solstice, in many parts of southern China, agricultural production faces challenges as crops grow vigorously, leading to rapid growth and spreading of weeds and pests. Therefore, it becomes a crucial period for field management. In the high-altitude pastoral areas, it marks the golden season of abundant grass and thriving livestock. During this period, rainfall in southwestern China noticeably increases. Previously reliant on the onset of spring, the rainfall distribution shifts from being predominantly in the east to gradually becoming more prevalent in the west.
summer solstice history
The “24 Solar Terms” is a product of ancient agricultural civilization. People gradually discovered the regular changes of the four seasons in nature and realized that the climate and phenology throughout the year also follow certain patterns. By observing the Big Dipper at dusk every day, people found that the position and direction of the Big Dipper’s handle varied in different seasons. Therefore, the Big Dipper has long been used as a celestial symbol to indicate the seasons. As written in the “Guanzi – Huanliu Pian”: “When the handle of the Dipper points east, it is spring everywhere; when it points south, it is summer everywhere; when it points west, it is autumn everywhere; when it points north, it is winter everywhere.”
The 24 Solar Terms represent the rhythmic changes of nature in the calendar and establish specific seasonal divisions based on the “12 Earthly Branches.” Within one year, there are three months for each of the four seasons—spring, summer, autumn, and winter—with two solar terms in each month. Each solar term has its unique significance. According to Chen Xiling’s interpretation in “Kexun Xiandu,” the term “Summer Solstice” (Xiazhi) is explained as follows: “The sun moves to the north, the days become longer, and the shadows become shorter, hence it is called the Summer Solstice. ‘Zhizhe’ means ‘extreme’.” The name “Summer Solstice” comes from this. At noon on the day of the Summer Solstice, the sun appears to be almost directly overhead, creating a brief phenomenon known as “the shadowless pole” in areas south of the Tropic of Cancer.
The Summer Solstice is one of the earliest-established solar terms in China, along with the Winter Solstice. There is an idiom, “Ligan Jianying,” which actually describes the method of establishing the solar terms of Summer Solstice and Winter Solstice. According to legend, Zhou Gong Ji Dan, the son of King Wen of Zhou, was once commissioned to build the Eastern Capital Chengzhou, also known as Luoyi, which is present-day Luoyang in Henan. While constructing Chengzhou City, he established a device called “Tugui” (earthly ruler) and “Mubiao” (wooden shadow) to determine the seasonal solar terms by measuring the changes in the length of the sun’s shadow. Tugui was a horizontally placed ruler, while Mubiao was an upright pole. Legend has it that Zhou Gong designated the day with the longest shadow as “Winter Solstice” and the day with the shortest shadow as “Summer Solstice.” Since then, observing the Winter Solstice and Summer Solstice has become an important event for successive dynasties.
Based on the Winter Solstice and Summer Solstice, the ancients further subdivided the solar terms. They established the two days when “day and night are equally divided, and cold and heat are balanced” as the Spring Equinox and Autumn Equinox, and later added the “Four Beginnings” (Beginning of Spring, Beginning of Summer, Beginning of Autumn, Beginning of Winter). By the time of the Pre-Qin period, the backbone of the 24 Solar Terms, the “Four Seasons and Eight Solar Terms,” had already emerged.
During the Qin and Han dynasties, with the continuous improvement of astronomical observation methods, the ancient people divided the ecliptic (the imaginary path of the sun on the celestial sphere) into 24 equal parts based on measuring the sun’s shadow. This allowed each solar term to have an accurate corresponding angle on the ecliptic, thereby fully understanding the relationship between the solar terms and the sun’s movement. Thus, the 24 Solar Terms were ultimately established. In the Han Dynasty’s “Huainanzi,” the complete names of the 24 Solar Terms had already appeared.
Summer Solstice Astronomical Calendar
The “24 Solar Terms” were initially determined by the direction of the handle of the Big Dipper, with the Dipper pointing to the south, indicating the Summer Solstice. The current “24 Solar Terms” are divided based on the “longitude of the sun’s ecliptic,” with each solar term corresponding to the Earth’s position on the ecliptic, which advances by 15 degrees. The Summer Solstice occurs when the sun’s ecliptic longitude reaches 90 degrees.
The Summer Solstice, the 10th solar term in the “24 Solar Terms,” marks the day when the sun reaches its northernmost point and nearly shines directly on the Tropic of Cancer (at 23 degrees 26 minutes north latitude). It is the longest day of the year in terms of daylight hours in the Northern Hemisphere, with daylight hours increasing as you move further north. This is due to the “long day and short night effect” caused by the tilt of the Earth’s axis, which becomes more pronounced the closer you are to the poles. For example, in Haikou City, Hainan, the length of the day on the Summer Solstice is approximately a little over 13 hours, while in Hangzhou, it is 14 hours, and in Beijing, it is around 15 hours. In Mohe, Heilongjiang, it can exceed 17 hours. Beyond the Arctic Circle, the sun remains above the horizon throughout the day, making it the day with the widest range of continuous daylight in the Northern Hemisphere.
Simultaneously, for regions located on or north of the Tropic of Cancer, the Summer Solstice is also the day when the sun reaches its highest altitude at local noon. It is the day of the year with the most solar radiation received in the Northern Hemisphere, nearly double that of the Southern Hemisphere.
The Summer Solstice marks the turning point when the sun begins its southward journey. After this day, the subsolar point starts moving from the Tropic of Cancer towards the south. For areas in China located north of the Tropic of Cancer, the sun’s altitude at noon begins to decrease day by day after the Summer Solstice. For areas south of the Tropic of Cancer, the sun’s altitude at noon decreases only after the sun returns to the Tropic of Cancer and shines directly again. In regions south of the Tropic of Cancer in the Northern Hemisphere, there are two occasions during the year when the sun is vertically overhead.
After the Summer Solstice, daylight gradually becomes shorter in various parts of the Northern Hemisphere. There is a folk saying that goes, “After eating noodles on the Summer Solstice, each day shortens by one thread.” The Tang Dynasty poet Wei Yingwu mentioned in his poem “Escaping the Summer Heat at the Northern Pond” that “The midday sun has reached its extreme, and the night hours from now on will grow longer.”
Furthermore, after the arrival of the Summer Solstice, the night sky gradually transitions into the summer constellation.
summer solstice weather
◆ Temperature and Precipitation
After the Summer Solstice, although the subsolar point begins to move gradually southward from the Tropic of Cancer and the daylight hours in the Northern Hemisphere start to decrease, the heat radiation from the sun to the Earth’s surface remains higher than the heat dissipation from the surface to the atmosphere. As a result, the temperature continues to rise for a period of time, leading to the saying “It won’t be hot until after the Summer Solstice.” The hottest days of the year, known as the “San Fu Days,” typically occur from mid-July to mid-August in the Gregorian calendar.
On the day of the Summer Solstice, the position where the sun shines directly on the Earth’s surface reaches its northernmost point, resulting in the longest daylight hours of the year in the Northern Hemisphere. During this period, most regions in China experience high temperatures, abundant sunshine, rapid crop growth, and increased water demand for both physiological and ecological purposes. After the Summer Solstice, the ground is heated intensely, and convection of the air becomes vigorous, often leading to thunderstorms in the afternoon to evening. These heat thunderstorms come and go quickly, with a small coverage area, and are known as “summer rains skipping fields.”
“Summer Solstice” marks the beginning of midsummer. Although it is not yet the hottest day of the year, it is not far from the start of the “San Fu Days.” From the Summer Solstice, after three “Geng” days, the hottest period of the year begins, known as the “San Fu Days.” The weather characteristics after the Summer Solstice include high temperatures, high humidity, and occasional thunderstorms.
◆ “Shadowless Pole”
On the day of the Summer Solstice, the sun is almost directly overhead the Tropic of Cancer, resulting in an almost vertical (or near vertical) shadow at noon. The phenomenon of “shadowless pole” can only be observed in areas south of the Tropic of Cancer, and there are two moments during the year when the sun is vertically overhead on the ground. Currently, there are five markers of the Tropic of Cancer in mainland China, located in Shantou, Conghua, Fengkai (in Guangdong Province), Guiping (in Guangxi Province), and Mojiang (in Yunnan Province).
Cities such as Zhanjiang, Maoming, Yangjiang, Yunfu, Zhaoqing, Jiangmen, Foshan, Zhongshan, Zhuhai, Shenzhen, Dongguan, Huizhou, and Shanwei, located south of the Tropic of Cancer in Guangdong Province, can witness the phenomenon of “shadowless pole” twice a year. People living in regions near or on the Tropic of Cancer can observe the transformation from “shadowed pole” to “shadowless pole” by standing a vertical pole under the sun around noon a few days before or after the Summer Solstice.
◆ Convection Weather
After the Summer Solstice, the ground is heated intensely, and air convection becomes vigorous, often leading to thunderstorms in the afternoon to evening. These heat thunderstorms come and go quickly, with a small coverage area. The famous poet Liu Yuxi from the Tang Dynasty creatively used this kind of weather as a metaphor and wrote the famous line, “Sunrise in the east, rain falls in the west, they say it’s not sunny, but there is sunshine.” However, convective weather with heavy precipitation is not always as beautiful as depicted in the poem. It often brings local disasters.
◆ Thunderstorm Days
During the Summer Solstice period, most regions in China experience high temperatures, abundant sunshine, and rapid crop growth, requiring a significant amount of water for physiological and ecological needs. The rainfall during this time has a significant impact on agricultural production, hence the saying “Raindrops after the Summer Solstice are worth a fortune.” In general, the precipitation in the middle and lower reaches of the Yangtze River can meet the water demand for crop growth.
After the Summer Solstice, the ground is heated intensely, and air convection becomes vigorous, resulting in the formation of thunderstorms. These heat thunderstorms come and go quickly, with a small coverage area. In some areas, heavy rainfall and localized floods can occur, posing a threat to people’s lives and property. Therefore, it is important to strengthen flood prevention measures.
◆ Jianghuai Meiyu (Plum Rain)
During the Summer Solstice period, it is the season of “Meiyu” (Plum Rain) in the Jianghuai region. This is the time when the plum fruits in southern China ripen and the air becomes extremely humid. Cold and warm air masses converge in this area, forming a trough of low pressure, leading to continuous cloudy and rainy weather. In such weather conditions, objects are prone to mold, people may feel uncomfortable, and mosquito breeding can accelerate. It is important to pay attention to the hygiene of drinking water, avoid consuming raw and cold food, and prevent the occurrence and spread of infectious diseases.
◆ High Temperature Sauna
Similar to the Winter Solstice, the Summer Solstice is a turning point that reflects the change of seasons. The Summer Solstice marks the official beginning of hot weather, and the temperature continues to rise thereafter.
After the Summer Solstice, although the subsolar point gradually moves southward and the daylight hours in the Northern Hemisphere shorten day by day while the nighttime hours increase, the heat radiation from the sun to the Earth’s surface still exceeds the heat dissipation from the surface to the atmosphere. Therefore, there is a saying in Chinese folklore that “It won’t be hot until after the Summer Solstice.”
Summer Solstice Farming Activities
Before and after the Summer Solstice, in areas south of the Huai River, early rice enters the stage of panicle emergence and flowering. Proper water management is crucial during this time, ensuring sufficient water supply for panicle emergence and grain filling. It is important to maintain a balance between wet and dry conditions, providing the necessary moisture for rice development while allowing for root respiration and ensuring healthy growth until maturity, which ultimately improves grain yield. There is a saying, “Do not let noon pass in summer when planting.” This means that summer planting activities should be completed before the Summer Solstice, and efforts should be made to strengthen the management of previously planted crops to ensure their healthy growth. Timely thinning and transplanting should be carried out after seedlings emerge.
During the Summer Solstice period, various weeds in the fields grow rapidly, competing with crops for water, nutrients, and sunlight. Additionally, they serve as hosts for various diseases and pests. Therefore, there is a farming proverb that says, “If you don’t weed around the roots by the Summer Solstice, it’s like raising poisonous snakes.” Timely and thorough weeding is one of the important measures to increase agricultural productivity during this time.
After the Summer Solstice, in most southern regions of China, agricultural production enters a period of active crop growth and the rapid spread of weeds, diseases, and pests. In the plateau pastoral areas, it is the golden season of abundant grass and livestock. During this time, rainfall in the western part of South China significantly increases, gradually shifting the distribution pattern from more rain in the east to more rain in the west, compared to the earlier spring season. Generally, if there was summer drought, it is expected to be alleviated around this time.
Chinese Summer Solstice Customs
Worshiping gods and ancestors
The summer solstice is one of the “four seasons and eight festivals” in China. Since ancient times, there has been a custom among the people to celebrate the harvest and worship ancestors during this time, praying for a year of peace and abundance. In the agricultural society of ancient times, people had various regular festivals for worshiping gods and ancestors, which gradually developed into festive banquets and established customary ways of celebration, known as festival customs.
Avoiding the heat of summer
On the summer solstice, women exchange folding fans, cosmetic powders, and other items with each other. In the book “Yuyang Miscellaneous Notes: Different Customs,” it is mentioned, “On the day of the summer solstice, they exchange fans and cosmetic powder bags, all with expressions of good wishes.” The “fan” is used to create a breeze, and the “cosmetic powder” is used to apply on the skin to disperse the heat and prevent heat rash.
Eating noodles on the summer solstice
Since ancient times, there has been a saying in some parts of China that goes, “Eat dumplings on the winter solstice and noodles on the summer solstice.” Eating noodles on the summer solstice is an important custom in many regions. It signifies tasting the new wheat that has come into season during the summer solstice.
Summer Solstice Festival
Similar to the winter solstice, the summer solstice is an important traditional festival in Chinese culture. It was formerly known as the “Summer Festival” or “Summer Solstice Festival.” Prior to the Qing Dynasty, the entire country used to have days off on the summer solstice to return home and gather with family, enjoying drinks together to avoid the intense summer heat. This practice was known as “taking a summer break.” The book “Wenchang Miscellaneous Records” from the Song Dynasty records, “Starting from the day of the summer solstice, all officials have a three-day holiday.”
Regional Differences in Food Customs
During the summer solstice in China, different regions have different customs. For example, in the northwestern region like Shaanxi, people eat zongzi (sticky rice dumplings) during the summer solstice and use chrysanthemums as ash to prevent wheat from being infested by pests. In the southern regions, people use a weighing scale to measure the fatness or leanness of individuals on this day. Traditional households make thin pancakes from rolled dough, bake them, and fill them with green vegetables, pea pods, tofu, and preserved meat. These pancakes are then consumed after ancestral worship or given as gifts to relatives and friends. In some areas, it is customary for underage nephews and nieces to have a meal at their maternal grandparents’ house on the summer solstice. The uncle’s family must prepare dishes made from amaranth leaves and bottle gourds. It is believed that eating amaranth leaves prevents heat stroke, while eating bottle gourds gives strength to the legs. In some cases, people visit their grandmother’s house to eat preserved cured meat, believing that it prevents summer-related illnesses.
In Beijing, there is a saying, “Dumplings on the winter solstice and noodles on the summer solstice.” People in Beijing enjoy eating noodles on the summer solstice. According to the customs of old Beijing, when the summer solstice arrives each year, people can indulge in eating raw vegetables and cold noodles. As the weather is hot during this time, consuming cold food helps reduce internal heat and stimulates the appetite without causing any harm to health.
In the past, in the Shaoxing region of Zhejiang province, people, regardless of their wealth, would pay tribute to their ancestors on the summer solstice, which was known as “zuoxiazhi.” In addition to the regular offerings, a plate of shredded cake (pusi bing) was added. Furthermore, due to the local climate, dragon boat races in the Shaoxing area were often held during the summer solstice instead of the Dragon Boat Festival, a tradition that has continued to this day.
On the summer solstice, people in Wuxi traditionally have wheat porridge in the morning and wonton soup for lunch. The word for wonton in Chinese sounds similar to the word for “harmony” and “union.” There is a saying, “Wontons on the summer solstice and tangyuan (glutinous rice balls) on the winter solstice, for good health and family reunion throughout the year.” After eating wontons, children are weighed to wish for healthy weight gain.
Mohe City is the northernmost county in China and experiences the phenomenon of polar day during the summer season due to its high latitude. The midnight sun, along with frequent appearances of the aurora borealis, earned Mohe the titles of “China’s City of the Midnight Sun” and “City of Aurora.” The midnight sun occurs for nine days around the summer solstice, from June 15th to June 25th, during which Mohe often enjoys clear skies.
On the summer solstice in Shandong, it is common for people to eat cold noodles, which are referred to as “passing through water noodles” and coincide with the saying, “Dumplings on the winter solstice and noodles on the summer solstice.” In some areas, such as Laiyang, new wheat is offered, while in Huang County (now Longkou City), new wheat grains are cooked and eaten. Children use wheat straws to make delicate small ladles and scoop up the grains in the soup repeatedly, creating a game-like activity that incorporates both eating and playing, representing the rustic charm of rural life.
In the Lingnan region, people eat dog meat and lychees on the summer solstice, which is a unique local tradition. People from Guangzhou and other regions in Guangxi, such as Qinzhou and Yulin, also enjoy eating dog meat and lychees on this day. It is believed that consuming dog meat and lychees on the summer solstice does not cause a feeling of heat. There is a saying, “Fish on the winter solstice, dog on the summer solstice,” indicating that eating dog meat on this day helps resist the invasion of cold winds and rain, reducing the likelihood of catching a cold and promoting good health. Although the practice of killing dogs and eating dog meat on the summer solstice is no longer common today, the tradition of eating dog meat remains unchanged.
In Shaanxi, people eat zongzi and other foods during the summer solstice.
Dragon Boat Festival
In many parts of China, the Summer Solstice coincides with the renowned Dragon Boat Festival, also known as Duanwu Festival. The festival is celebrated with great enthusiasm, and its origins can be traced back to ancient legends and historical events. Dragon boat races, the consumption of sticky rice dumplings (zongzi), and the hanging of medicinal herbs are common customs during this festival. The Dragon Boat Festival not only commemorates the Summer Solstice but also pays homage to Qu Yuan, a famous poet and statesman.
The Summer Solstice in China is more than just an astronomical event. It embodies a rich tapestry of cultural traditions, ancient beliefs, and a deep connection with nature. The celebrations associated with the Summer Solstice, such as the Dragon Boat Festival and various health-related practices, showcase the Chinese people’s appreciation for the changing seasons and their desire to live in harmony with the natural world. As the longest day of the year, the Summer Solstice in China serves as a reminder to cherish the abundance of light and warmth and embrace the spirit of renewal and vitality.