The Autumnal Equinox (Qiufen) falls on September 23. On this day, the sun shines directly on the equator, and, as a result, daytime is as long as night. After this day, nighttime in the northern Hemisphere starts getting longer while daytime gets proportionally shorter. The ground heat dissipates more and more quickly. By the time this solar term arrives, half of autumn has already gone by. In Chinese culture, as a result of respect for nature, Chinese people make offerings and sacrifices to the sun in spring and to the moon in autumn. Yuetan (Altar of the Moon), one of the five altars in Beijing, was built in 1530 for emperors to give sacrifices to the moon.
Animals that need to hibernate during winter now begin to fatten themselves to get prepared; while those that don’t hibernate are also busy storing food for winter.
After the Autumnal Equinox, thunder and lightning gradually die away and rainfall lessens. The temperature drops sharply after the Autumnal Equinox; as a result, the ground surface temperature is not high enough for plants to grow. That’s why an autumn harvest becomes a top priority for farmers. Farmers busy themselves with the autumn harvest of rice, corns, beans, and sunflowers, and autumn ploughing and sowing of winter wheat and oilseed rape. Besides grapes, persimmons, and pears… almost all fruits are ripe at this time of year.
The biggest event linked with the Autumnal Equinox is the Mid-Autumn Festival (Zhongqiujie). It is on August 15 of the Chinese lunar calendar and is celebrated as the second most important festival after Chinese New Year, since a family reunion is always expected.
With a history of over 3,000 years, this festival dates back to the Shang Dynasty (1600 – 1046 BC) when people held moon-worship activities, as the moon on this day was believed to be the fullest, which still remains true to this day. For the Chinese, a full moon symbolizes prosperity and reunion. On this day, people eat mooncakes, worship the moon, and fly lanterns in the sky.
Since ancient times, the Mid-Autumn Festival has been a very important festival and remains so today, as such; there are numerous poems about this festival. Of all the poems, Su Shi’s “Prelude to Water Ripple” (Shui diao ge tou) might be the most famous:
We all have joys and sorrows, partings and re-unions.
The moon, its phases of resplendence,
Waxings and wanings —
Nothing in this world is ever perfect.
I wish a long life to us all.
Then, however far apart we are
We’d still be sharing the same enchanting moonlight.
(Written by Su Shi from the Song Dynasty (960-1279), translated by Gong Jinghao)