Published on 2024.02.19


Rain Water Comes, Canola Flower blooms


Rain Water (Yushui, 雨水) is the second solar term among the Chinese twenty-four solar terms in a year. First, let’s study the meanings of the two characters “雨水” in Chinese.

Evolution of the Character of “Rain” (Yu, 雨)

“Rain” in Chinese is a pictographic character. The original meaning is water droplets falling from clouds to the ground. Later, it is extended to refer to something falling from top to down and can also be extended to mean grace or nourishment. In oracle bone script (甲骨文), the horizontal line on the top of the character resembles the sky and the small dots below look like droplets of water. The water droplets falling from the sky are rain. In the small seal script (小篆), the horizontal line is like the sky, and the four dots and one vertical line illustrate water falling from the clouds. The bronze script and seal script of the character “rain” keep the form of oracle bone script. Then in the Han Dynasty (漢朝, 206BC-220AD), the writing of the character is transformed into “雨” in regular script. “Rain” (雨) is also a radical, the meaning part of a Chinese character, to mean something related to rain or the sky, such as snow, sky, fog, haze, falling down, etc.

The oracle bone script of “rain (雨)” (left) and the small seal script of “rain (雨)” (right)
The script of “rain (雨)” during Warring States period (戰國時期, 475-221 BC)

According to the Records of Months (Yue Ling, 《月令》) in the classic Book of Rites, rain begins in mid spring, which means that the Rain Water signals the second lunar month ever since the Han Dynasty. “Water” in Chinese is also a pictographic character. The original meaning of “water” is river, and it is extended to refer to all the water bodies (a general term for rivers, lakes, and seas). Later, “water” of rivers is used to represent a colorless and odorless transparent liquid, so it is used to refer to certain liquid substances. When “water” is calm, it is level, therefore, it is again given the meaning of level measurement. Finally, in Chinese culture, “water” belongs to one of the Five Elements, namely wood, fire, earth, gold, and water. The “water” in the Five Elements does not specifically refer to water, but rather some of its properties, for example, be downward or gentle. The character “water” has different forms in oracle bone script and its basic form resembles the meandering flow of water. The forms of “water” do not change much in oracle bone script, bronze script, Warring States script, and small seal script, and keeps its basic meaning unchanged. Later, the character “water” is changed from separate lines to a single-element character in official script in the early Han Dynasty. It is further developed into “three dots” (氵) in official script and is designated as a pictographic element to mean something related to water.

Evolution of the Character of “Water” (Shui, 水)
The oracle bone script of “water (水)” (left) and the small seal script of “water (水)” (right)

In the classic Tao Te Ching (《道德經》), it is said that “the greatest virtue is just like water (上善若水,水善利萬物而不爭……)”, which means that water has the quality of nurturing all things without competing with them. The solar term Rain Water means the beginning of the rain and the gradual increase of rainfall. As the saying goes, “spring rain is as precious as oil. (春雨貴如油)” Moderate rainfall is vital for the growth of crops and reflects the seasonal changes in agriculture. With the coming of the rainy season, the weather is unpredictable with the most frequent occurrence of cold waves throughout the year, resulting in the fluctuation between cold and warmth. In ancient times, the Rain Water was divided into Three Periods (Sanhou, 三候, fifteen days altogether): “The first five-day period is for otters to catch fish; the second is for wild geese to fly north; and the third is for grass and trees to sprout. (一候獺祭魚;二候鴻雁來;三候草木萌動。)” According to the customs of the Nine Periods (Shujiu, 數九, eighty-one days altogether) following the Winter Solstice, the Rain Water falls on the seventh period, signaling the river breaking ice and wild geese returning north. In many southern regions in China, with the coming of the Rain Water, the days are getting warm and plants and trees are starting to sprout tender buds. With the canola, apricot and pear flowers are in full bloom, the field is presenting us a thriving scene. At this moment, there are many scenic spots around the southwestern city Chengdu where you can admire the flowers and blossoms. The canola blossoms, the flocking tourists and busy bees altogether weave into a spectacular scenery.

Rain Water is a festival filled with imagination and human touch. On this day, whether it rains or not, people soak in a poetic and picturesque atmosphere of rain and pray for health and success in diverse ways.

Ms. Gao Yunxuan

From Chengdu, Sichuan Province, is currently engaged in research and dissemination of oracle bone script and seal script. She studies traditional Chinese culture with Mr. Zhao Wengeng, the renowned oracle bone inscription researcher, calligrapher, and founder of Wengeng School. She has provided written texts for the programs 24 Solar Terms (《二十四節氣》), 12 Flower Goddesses (《十二花神》), and Fu (《福》) etc.

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