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Solar Terms 节气

The choice of living in a time frame determined by the solar calendar is like living in a poem with dense presences, seemingly obscure references and a growing sensibility toward variations of clarity.

The oldest known solar calendar is in Peru. The regularly-spaced thirteen towers of Chankillo were constructed on the ridge of a low hill running near north to south. The towers create a “toothed” horizon with narrow gaps at regular intervals. Inhabitants of Chankillo would have been able to determine dates as well as the optimal time for planting crops by observing the sun emerging at sunrise through one of these gaps.

In Naxi Culture, the Dongba made agricultural calendars on paper. The one in the attached illustration has been translated into a stone relief set in the floor of a museum in Mujiaqiao Village near the airport.

He Jixing at Mujiaqiao Village

He Jixing at Mujiaqiao Village

During a recent ‘Three Village Gathering’, we learned from Yang Qing that the Naxi also have an agricultural calendar in the format of a song. Whilst there is no record of the melody in which it is sung, the words have been kept. Together with our friends from Ciman Village, we will, in the first instance, concentrate our research on this song.

In the meantime we observe our surroundings, here in Jixiang Village (Petra and Jixing and any visitors who like to join) on the south side of Lashihai and in Zheng Sheng Village, Wang Mei and Zhu Ming observe life on the south side of the lake. Here you can find a podcast on their reflections: 17/04/2019 Wang Mei’s reflection on working with the solar terms

Below are observations and video shorts of the solar terms as and how we encounter them with contributions from visitors.

Beginning of Autumn 

Theory, scallions, and hooting

Greater Heat

A compilation of events during the time of Greater Heat (23rd July – 7th August 2019)

Lesser Heat

A compilation of events during the time of Lesser Heat (7th – 22nd July 2019)

Summer Solstice

A compilation of events during the time of Summer Solstice (21st June – 6th July 2019)

Grain in Beard

A compilation of events during the time Grain in Beard (5th – 20th June 2019)

Grain Rain

Grain Rain is the sixth seasonal marker on the lunar calendar and the last one in spring.

A compilation of events during the time of Grain Rain (20th April – 5th May 2019)


The following entries were contributed by Yue Cui, a writer in residence during this period of time:

Lashihai at Night

Lashihai at Night

April 20th

On the night of Grain Rain, we took a night walk to Lashihai wetland. It was a full-moon night, cold and bright, so we could see far ahead of us without any streetlamp. Water had receded into the central lake because of seasonal dam control so we could venture out further this time. The night was tranquil but not at all silent – ducks were quacking, water was purling, fish were splashing about and doing their business. Above us was one bright moon, the radiant Mars, and countless twinkling stars. Behind us was the straight road leading back home. To our left was the soft quivers of bamboo leaves. To our far right was the unbroken illumination of the new highway. In front of us across the water was the sparse orange lights from family windows in another village. Behind that was the silent black hills. Guarded by the hills and the water and marked by distant lights, Jixiang village lay snug and safe at night.

Mu Pengxian playing on a swing

Mu Pengxian playing on a swing

Mu Pengxian and I

Mu Pengxian and I

April 21st

Sunday is movie-making day at the Studio. In the morning, I was woken up by the sound of children laughing and running in the courtyard. After watching the animation to be adapted in the afternoon, Mu Pengxian, our heroine in Winnie-the-Pooh and the girl who made popsicle juice for us in the screening the night before, invited me for a walk to Lashihai. The place looked different in the day. Everything was coming to life. I had braids that day and apparently this was a hairstyle that was good for innovation. Mu was constantly picking flowers from trees or the grass to add to my braids. Lashihai is also a popular place for wedding photo shooting and we found a discarded bunch of flowers with which Mu played “throw-and-catch” happily all the way. After the little walk, Mu coaxed and pleaded and practically dragged me to eat at her family. Mu’s family is not among the comfortable ones in the village. In the house, flies were buzzing over the fish drying underneath the sun when I went to visit. Mu used her grandma’s hat as a basket and led me to the back garden. She snapped a few garden onions from the soil, picked up two eggs, and pushed a fresh broad bean into my mouth. The ten-year-old girl cooked us egg-fried rice with green onions, broad beans, and pickles. It was a meal of great simplicity and nice flavour which touched my heart. I believe we all have something to learn from the girl’s great enjoyment over simple things in life and her willingness to share even though she did not have much.


Pure Brightness


A compilation of events during the time of Pure Brightness (5th – 19th April)

The season of ‘Pure Brightness’ begun with the Qingmin Festival on April the 5th. Jixing writes about the first day: 昨天是清明节,和往年一样,大家一起上山扫墓,野炊。今年对野外用火的管理更加的严格了,两架直升机一直在墓地上空盘旋,森林火警强行扑灭了许多家庭做饭的火,菜只煮熟了一半,唯有不欢而散,而我们幸免,下山后听人们议论才觉得更加幸运. ‘As in previous years, everyone went up the mountain to sweep the graves and picnic. This year, the forest fire management is very strict. Two helicopters have been hovering over the cemetery. Forest fire fighters forcibly extinguished many families’ cooking fires. Their dishes were only half-cooked. The families were upset. Somehow we were spared, we finished our picnic, packed up and left, blissfully unaware of the commotion. All we saw were two buses parked nearby with sad looking young men in much too large uniforms. After listening to people’s talk later that afternoon, I feel very fortunate. ‘

The following observations are by Xinlin Song, who came to stay at Lijiang Studio during the Time of Pure Brightness in mid April:

Lijiang Diary  4.14.2019  Sunny 

Beet root, indigo, pumpkin and mint, you can perhaps easily tell the difference looking at the fully grown plant, but can you tell the difference when they come as seed?  What happened in the time it took for a pumpkin seed to turn into the steamed pumpkin you order in a restaurant? Was it planted in a greenhouse miles away? Was there human or robot that had watered the plant? Was the harvest delivered to a nearby wholesale market before changing several hands before arriving into your kitchen?  These questions are rarely asked or even being thought of if you are having a busy urban life.  

After all, well, do you even buy vegetables from a physical market today?

Lijiang Studio

One table in the studio is used as a small seed bank.

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The seeds are from all over the world brought by previous visitors and from grandma’s last year harvest. I marvel at these tiny dots in my palm that one sneeze would blow away; that these tiny dots should one day become fully shaped plants with nutrients that sustain life. If given the right condition of soil, sunlight and water, a tiny dotted seed can transform the energy of all these natural elements with its own unique creation.  

This afternoon, Cuiyue and I were about to plant these seeds. We carried a hoe and a bucket trying to break our first piece of ground by a small water pond behind the house. As we were discussing where to start the work, some children from the village came. One girl immediately got interested in the seeds, she carefully opened each paper package and quickly shouted the name of the seed contained. At this point the other girl came up to her and the two girls started to discuss a plan what-should-grow-where in this as yet invisible garden. The hoe, Cuiyue had found just a while ago quickly changed hands. Without us quite grasping the speed of events, the two girls had already started plotting the earth. 

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I was struck how natural and instinctive the planting knowledge of these two 10-year-old girls came into play. Whilst working the soil, there were little disputes on techniques of plotting. “Who taught you to plant like this? Have you ever done it?” One of the girls said. “I do this everyday at home, this is how my mom does it!” Replied the other. “Uhhh, anyone needs anything?” I asked. I had realised that at this moment and with their expertise, the only thing I could offer was probably my physical labour.

With more than half of the population in China today living in the cities, food has become one of the strongest links that connect the urban and the rural. China is now producing around 70% of the world’s vegetables, while its population is only 18%.  The question of how does the food come to our table is as mysterious as the question where do the leftovers end up afterwards.  

Being in the countryside brings one closer to the two ends of food production and reduction. It bring us face to face with the sensitivity of planting and the circularity of disposing. Both ends meet on a small scale in a rural household and are nicely intertwined with knowledge that has been passed on through generations. 

As long as this form of knowledge survives and is valued, we will be ok.

Spring Equinox

Spring Equinox fell on the 21 March 2019. In that week, Zhu Ming and Wang Mei shared with us (Jixing, Petra, Sipei) their recordings of the previous solar term, the time of  ‘Insects Waking’ in form of daily notes and sketches of plants. We all had noted that our experiences of observing our environs had taken on a different quality now that they were prompted by an awareness of solar terms. Articles (in Chinese) about observations made during previous solar terms in 2019 can be seen  here and here.

A couple of years ago, Zhu Ming and Wang Mei moved to the North of Lashihai to Zheng Sheng Village from another village further up the mountains. They are exploring different approaches to farming in their courtyard. Their preference for observing rather than mastering some quick concrete knowledge about plants recalls the essence of slow art. A pear blossom, once recorded on a daily basis, reveals a continuity of changes in colours, smells and shapes. As co-initiators of the Stalking Tao project, they will contribute observations from their locality for each solar term. The approach helps them to notice subtle changes that had gone unnoticed during the previous years of their stay. They plan to maintain this process of recordings for at least three years. Zhuming also shares these reflections with neighbours and in the process learns about local uses and knowledge of solar terms.

We went up to the mountain to see the dragon’s claw willows and two deserted farms. The first one was locked with padlocks and though we found a key, we could not make it fit. The gate to the second one was wide open. After a short exploration, we left Jixing taking photographs inside and waited in front of the gate. We waited and waited. After what seemed like 20 minutes, we searched the courtyard, but couldn’t see anyone. Finally we called him by phone and he told us that he was already home. He had left through another exit. He had shouted our names before walking back. There was no reply. None of us had heard his calls. Had his voice been absorbed by the dense vegetation?

When we left, Zhu Ming and Wang Mei gave us some dragon’s claw willow branches and (name of the other plants) as gifts.

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During my stay (17 March – 24 March 2019: the closing of the ‘Time of Insects Waking’ and the beginning of ‘Spring Equinox’), Petra and I took two walks along the circular routes. Petra took notes of what had changed from the last time of her walks. Water levels have gone down. It is no longer possible to cross a ditch, because the boat that acted as a bridge, has been moved. Seeing pruned and unpruned trees in front of me, listening to Grandma talking about the good taste of locally grown fruits and grains in the old days, and walking around the dam which has changed the lives of many, I was wondering what stories the land under my feet would like to tell. If, as Jixing describes it, the earth is a body and we are making the instrument that resonates like a sound box of a guitar, what is the pitch of the sound the earth is making right now? How does the agitation of air incurred by our walking interact with that of the villagers working the land, the vibrant blossoms on the papaya tree, the cows walking back home after a days grazing in the wild flower fields, and the water rippling in the ditch?

Somatic markers by Petra Johnson, from Dec 2018 to early Jan 2019, during the Time of Greater Snow, Winter Solstice and Time of Lesser Cold

Another walk we took this week was from Jixiang Village to Ciman Village in order to attend the annual Pear Flower Festival there. We thought it would be good to contribute to the Festival by counting the number of pear trees along the road between the two villages. Sadly there were only 39 trees along the 5.7km route. Most of them were lining the road you turn onto when coming out of the studio. When we shared our findings at the festival we were told 39 is an auspicious number.

Ciman Village is famous for its pears. You can find some of the oldest pear trees there. It once supplied one of the four top brands of pears in this country and they were sent to the central government in the 1950s and 1960s. The Pear Flower Festival is a celebration of the pear, but also is a time to pay tribute to the elderly. Since 1992 this event has been organised by the Association of the Elderly. This year, the Ciman Pear Cooperative and Media Centre for Community joined the organising committee, to show the achievements of and call for more participation in pear tree planting, as well as to exhibit photographs of villagers made by artists and old photographs of pear planting and harvesting. A photo competition was also launched at this festival to invite villagers to use photography to share their observations in life.

Back in Jixiang Village, there was also a special event for the elderly – a three-day feast at the beginning of Spring Equinox. Grandma told me that when she was young, she helped cooking for this event. Now she could just enjoy the meals. The venue for the meals was once used as a village temple and a school. Jixing attended this school for two years. After an early dinner, he showed his film The Village Temple to the elderlies. The film is part of his long-term project of tracing the history of the village with his fellow villagers. After graduating from university last year, Jixing went back to the village and has been conducting interviews with villagers and filming events as well as everyday life in the village. He also made two short films that straddle between dream worlds and realities and convey contemporary struggles and fortunes. The villager he had talked with in the film was present, others who expressed their wish to be present in a future film and many who had known the erhu player, who had passed away just recently and to whom the film was dedicated. In his very own evocative language, Jixing alluded in this film to the journey of fluids in the dying body.

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Jixing also took a group photograph for those attending the banquet. Similar to the situation of the screening of his film, some villagers were very enthusiastic about it, some were indifferent, which left Jixing much to think about the next step of his work. How would his work evolve in time and in dealing with the complexities embedded in history? We agreed that actions need to be taken now, and at least we know, through this event, that there are many other active voices and there is much silence we can listen to.

Through Jixing, I got to talk to the main protagonist in the film, [what’s his name Jixing?]. He read my palm and gave me best wishes. When he read Jixing’s palm, Jixing asked, ‘Can you see when is the next time we make a film together’?

Many things take on new forms on this Spring Equinox.

A short compilation of events during the time Spring Equinox (21st March – 4th April 2019)

Insects Waking

A short compilation of events during the time of Insects Waking (6th Mar – 20th Mar 2019)

Rain Water

A short compilation of events during the time of Rain Water (19th Feb – 5th March 2019)

Beginning of Spring

A short compilation of events during the time of the Spring Festival (4th Feb – 18th Feb 2019)

Time of Greater Cold

A short compilation of events during the time of Greater Cold (20th Jan – 3rd Feb 2019)

Time of Lesser Cold

A short text: during-the-time-of-lesser-cold-Download

A short compilation of events during the time of Lesser Cold (5th Jan – 19th Jan 2019)