Published on 2024.02.16


Rain Water: Moisturize Gently in Breeze


Rain Water, the second solar term in Spring, came on February 19 last year. The epidemic hadn’t ceased then. A drizzle embraced HK Island overnight, covering the windows with a sea breeze. Amid the vast mist, I heard the gentle sound of rain.

Time goes by. Spring returns to the world with approaching Rain Water. The epidemic has appeased, yet the sound of rain lingers.

The mood varies with the environment. Even the same pitter-patter sounds quite different. In the Southern Song dynasty, poet Jiang Jie described hearing rain specially in his ci Beauty Yu: Hearing Rain. Hearing rain in an entertainment house as a youth, one feels as romantic as seeing a mountain of blossoms. Hearing rain on a boat when travelling far and wide as an adult, one can’t help feeling lonely. Hearing rain in one’s last years when staying in a temple, a white-haired person who leaves secularity behind would “let the sound continue till dawn on the steps”. As is believed in Buddhism, everything comes from heart. This makes sense. For example, for those concerned about people’s hard life, the spring rain has another meaning. They pay attention to how rain moisturizes all creatures to enable vigorous growth. So their odes emphasize Delight in Rain. The best-known example would be poet Du Fu’s Delight in Rain at a Spring Night: “A friendly rain comes in due time in early spring.” A night drizzle came in a breeze “to moisturize all creatures silently”. With a lifelong confucianist mindset to “love people and everything”, Du Fu was impressed when hearing rain at a spring night, thus wrote the poem which turned out to be an eternal masterpiece.

People take delight in spring rain for a simple reason. As described in Guliang Annals, “Those taking delight in rain aspire to contribute to people.” Such a tradition is inherited and promoted in the majority of later poems and prose themed “Delight in Rain”. An especially representative instance is Su Shi’s On Rain Delight Pavilion, which eulogizes its nature merits, like moisturizing all creatures and benefiting people. A spring rain not only brings the hope of a new year to the common people, but also delights those concerned about people’s livelihood. If Rain Water, a solar term in spring, is blessed with good wishes, then “aspiring to contribute to people” would be the most significant meaning therein!

Some popular proverbs echo these masterpieces by men of letter. For example, “It gets warmer since Spring Begins, with rain busy with fertilizing the land.” After Spring Begins, the land warms up gradually, fertile soil looses, and farmers plough the fields to sow. On Rain Water, the fields are fertilized. Hence “dredging mud from river” became an agricultural custom, in which farmers go to a river or lake by boat with a net tied to a bamboo pole, to dredge the mud underwater. Being smooth and dark, the mud is regarded as the best fertile soil. When cast in the field, it improves the land naturally and provides ample nutrients for crops. As a saying goes among farmers, “The possibility of harvest depends on water, while the quality of harvest depends on fertilizer.” Such a simple saying contains an absolute truth.

Among the folk customs related to Rain Water, Rice Divination stems from farming and influences diets. During the Rain Water period, there are Crop Divination in Wuyue, Southeast China, and Rice Divination in South China. The two customs are similar, in that sticky rice pops in a heated wok. As Lou Yuanli recorded in Agrometeorology, “During Rain Water, a dry wok is heated to pop sticky rice.” The more white pop rice you get, the greater harvest of crops you would get this year. Vice versa. With the changes of ages, these scenes have become rare. Yet we’re still able to reproduce the previous spectacle vaguely from some literature. As Li Jiean wrote in his poem Pop Rice, “When an east breeze comes to Wu State, each family is busy making pop rice to predict luck.” The agricultural custom also exists in local diets. For instance, Qu Dajun wrote in Canton Neologism that “As a Canton custom, people pop sticky rice over blazing fire at the end of year, which is called Pop Rice.” Even now, pop rice remains a favorite in South Jiangxi and among Hakkas. In North China where Dragon Head-raising Day (the second day of the second lunar month, aka Spring Plowing Day) is attached importance to, similar customs exist. In Chinese, Hua (flower) sounds like Fa (fortune). Therefore, pop rice is blessed with people’s best wishes for prosperity and fortune.

According to the ancestors, spring belongs to Wood (among the five elements), which prospers with Water (among the five elements). Hence Rain Water comes after Spring Begins. Spring rain vitalizes the world, and helps crops to grow well. Rapes, apricots and plums blossom successively at that time. Yet the humidity may harm our spleen and stomach, both of which belong to Earth (among the five elements). Spring is the time to nurture the liver. If the wood-natured liver is overactive, the earth-natured spleen and stomach may be affected. So it’s believed in the ancient Chinese medicine that healthcare in spring should focus on nurturing spleen and stomach, during which acid food which may over-activate the liver should be avoided, while an appropriate amount of sweet congee is recommended. As recorded in Qianjin Prescriptions, it’s recommended to have congee in the first lunar month, which may benefit both mental and physical health.

In 2023, the Guimao year of the zodiac calendar, the epidemic gradually fades down. May all the people around the world enjoy mental and physical health, take advantage of the vigor from seasonal rain, and make persistent efforts to repay mother nature for its kindness of lasting vitality.

Prof. Chen Yun Feng

A professor at the Department of Chinese Language and Literature at Hong Kong Shue Yan University. He is the vice president of the Association of " The Literary Mind and the Carving of Dragons" and has long been teaching and researching ancient Chinese literature. Professor Chen’s main research interests are the history of Chinese literary criticism, The Literary Mind and the Carving of Dragons, and Tang poetics. He has published over 60 research papers and 6 academic monographs.

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yunfeng chen

03-03-2023 06:57:43





Chi Seng Pun

01-03-2023 18:55:41