Published on 2023.05.04


Summer Commences:

Time when Pomegranate Flowers shine in front of our Eyes,
Time when We become more Energetic


In an early summer many years ago, I wrote an impromptu poem titled Reminisce. The second section is as follows, “When leaves of the flamboyant tree take their red clothes/ Reminisce burns as a sparkling flame/ Dazzling with competing sunlight/Stirring with the tide (鳳凰木葉漾起紅衣裳的時候/懷想就是燦燦的焰火/與烈日競輝光/與潮水共翻簸)”. The poem was written as a remembrance of Xiamen (廈門) – the island of herons – where I had been living for a long time. Flame tree flower (鳳凰木) was a signature flower of Xiamen in summer, which shines like a flame and flickers on the branches, and in our mind as well.

Having graduated from the university, I migrated to Beijing to start my teaching career. Time flies and it was already thirty years from now. In early summer, the blooming of pomegranate flowers we see in the campus in the Northern country is equally impressive and unforgettable. In March during late spring, what a blissful moment when various trees have flowers budding and birds begin to fly. In summer, flamboyrant colours shine in our eyes while the beauties of the trees are mesmerizing.

Now, it seems that spring is not over yet, but Summer Commences (Lixia, 立夏) is soon approaching. As its name suggests, the summer is coming. Thinking about those sceneries of Summer Commences, I realized how they inspired ancient Chinese poets to create many great poems that hail the beauty of pomegranate flowers. For example, in Northern Song Dynasty (960-1127), Mei Yaochen (梅堯臣, 1002-1060) wrote a poem Pomegranate flowers (石榴花)  with a famous phrase “When the spring ends, crimson colour appears (春花開盡見深紅).” Su Shi’s (蘇軾, 1037-1101) poem Mr. Yuan returns home (阮郎歸) described the scenery of early summer: “The sprinkle is over, lotuses have turned over, and the pomegranate flowers blossom brilliantly (微雨過,小荷翻,榴花開欲燃).”Southern Song Dynasty (1127-1279) poet Lu You (陸游, 1125-1210) said in his poem First Encounter with Pomegranate Flowers (初見石榴花), “In a drizzly day in April in the south of Yangtze River, I am full of inspiration to write poems, therefore, I snap a branch of pomegranate flower and gaze at it (江南四月,細雨霏霏,但詩興甚濃:榴花折得一枝看).”

The series “Write out of inspiration in early summer (初夏即事)” written by Yang Wanli (楊萬里, 1127-1206) include 12 poems, two of which described pomegranate flowers with one of which  as follows: “Looking at the pomegranate tree, one will know that Summar Commences is coming. This day in every year one will find the pomegranate flowers begin to bloosom. (卻是石榴知立夏, 年年此日一花開).”

Pomegranate flowers need affluence of sunlight to bloosom. In late spring, one can see the budding gradually develop and the flower fully bloosom. In lunar calendar May which is the summer time when pomegranate flowers begin to bloosom, the green leaves are decorated by a few bloosoming red flowers, which is highly attractive. The pomegranate fruit ripes in the winter. Inside the fruit, the pomegranate seeds gripple with each other, which is commonly associated with the solidarity of Chinese culture and spirit. The long history of Chinese civilization enlightens the heart of Chinese people all over the world, motivating their offsprings to thrive for the new transformation, just like those small pomegranate seeds which grow ito a big tree.

The character Li (立) in solar term Li Xia (立夏) means “beginning”, and Xia (夏, summer) also means “big” – here means that those little buds in spring will fully bloosom and enter the height of their lifespan. In a broad sense, “big” is also signified in various aspects. The most obvious one is that the sun is becoming “bigger” – as the sun gradually moves from the Equator to the Tropic of Cancer, it seems to be farther away from us and give us an impression that it becomes bigger. From the perspective of the nature, sunlight becomes more abund after Summer Commences. With more time being exposed under the sunlight, natural energy is richer and everything grows more rapidly in the nature. Tao Yuanming (陶淵明, 3650-427) said in his prose After reading Classics of Mountains and Seas (讀山海經), “In early summer, plants and trees grow, branches gripple with each other and surround my house (孟夏草木長,繞屋樹扶疏)”. This phrase describe how the trees surrounding the house flourish in early summer.


Also, around Summer Commences, rain becomes heavier and its sound grows “bigger”. This short prose was written on a Saturaday in early spring of this year. During the writing, there were three blouts of thunder outside the building. The wind from the sea brought the heavy rain and hit on the window with crispy sounds, which is totally different from quick and soft sprinklings in spring. That is to say, as China is big and broad, even in the same solar term, there may be huge differences in temperatures between the northern and sountern part of the country.

In solar terms, the summer has begun, the moisture from the southern sea becomes the rain that firstly arrives at the southern China and enters the riverbank of Yangtze river and Haihe river, which eventually affects the northern China. Therefore, Summer Commences is accompanied with rainfall and storms, as Chinese idiom said, “In Summer Commences, there is lesser fullness of Grain, while streams and rivers are full” (立夏小滿, 江滿河滿). This mainly happens in Sourthern China. In general, summer is a process that extends in space and time. It progresses as days pass and extends to other geographical areas. Nonetheless, the trend is always the same: from south to north, the more the sunshine and rainfall, the greater prosperity and energy.

With the growth of everything in the nature, every creature shares the goodwill for a brigher future. Chinese idiom said, “Eat an egg in Summer Commences so that your strength is increased by ten thousand times(立夏吃一蛋, 力氣長一萬)”. In the solar term The Spring Equinox (春分), there is a game called “Upright the Egg” (立蛋). In Summer Commences, there is a tradition of “Egg Fight (鬥蛋)”. As said in the idiom, “Everywhere we see the summer eggs smash with each other (立夏蛋, 滿街甩)”. The game of “Egg Fight” is the competition of “force”– Each child holds a boiled egg and hits others’ egg with force. The egg which remains uncracked will be hailed as the strongest “King of Eggs (蛋王)”. Another meaning of “Summer Egg” is the wish to build up one’s body. With the increasing temperature and increasing moisture, one would inevitably feel overheat. This situation is called “summer bitterness” (苦夏). It often leads to a condition called “Zhu” (疰), which means the symptoms rooted from overheat in summer. Since ancient times, eggs are regarded as a good source of nutrition. In order to maintain physical and mental health, people take extra nutrition in advance by eating “summer egg” in Summer Commences to build up one’s strength and energy. Therefore, a small summer egg can allow one to relax through games and develop strength. This is the evidence of life wisdom of Chinese people to adapt to changes in different seasons.

To strengthen the body, become more energetic as well as go through the hot summer, there are many rituals and traditions in different regions related to food and nutrition. Therefore, some people regarded Summer Commences as a food festival. Documentary of Qing Dyasty Emperor Jiaqing Era (清嘉錄) described that in Suzhou area, there is a tradition of Summer Tasting (Chang Xin, 嚐新) in Summer Commences, which includes tasting the three fresh foodstuff (Chang Sanxian 嚐三鮮): cherries, green plums and wheat; there are also “wine tasting” – including rice liquor, fermentated rice, as well as eating with seitan (麵筋), shepherd’s purse (薺菜), water bamboo (白筍, 茭白) and salted duck egg (咸鴨蛋) alongside with liquor drinking.

In other areas of China, the “summer soup” (立夏羹) is a popular delicacy. The summer soup is made of sticky rice (糯米), spiranthes sinensis (清明草), mixed with sugar or salt, rubbed into pillets and boiled in soup. A Chinese idiom said, “After eating the summer soup, we are so strong that one can make a pit by stepping on a stone”. This implies that eating the summer soup can provide energy and nutrition so as to strengthen their body. Summer is a busy time for farm work, people really need to maintain healthy to sustain their streak for work.

People said, “In spring, one keeps searching for daylight. In summer, one keeps fighting with time”. This means that in summer when everything grows, farmers need to put much more efforts to catch up with the rhythm of the nature. This would not happen without a strong body-build and abundance of energy.

In the existing ancient texts on natural science, it is said that the first sign of the coming of Summer Commences is that “The Luo-guo (螻蟈) is croaking”. According to Annotation to the Classics of Rites Chapter of Proceedings of Government in the Different Months (禮記‧月令) written by Eastern Han dynasty (25-220) scholar Cheng Xuan (鄭玄, 127-200), Luo-guo actually means frogs. As we know, during the spring, frogs begin to croak. However, after Summer Commences, frog’s croaking is much louder and attracts more attention, which is a sign of summer’s coming. Therefore, Southern Song Dynasty poet Zhao Shixiu (趙師秀, 1170-1220) said, “In the time when the yellow plums ripe, it is raining everywhere, in the meantime, frogs are everwhere in grasslands and ponds (黃梅時節家家雨, 青草池塘處處蛙)”. Poet Xin Qiji (辛棄疾, 1140-1207) also said, “In the fragrance of rice, we are talking about this year of affluence and listening to the orchestra of frog’s croaking (稻花香裏說豐年,聽取蛙聲一片)”.

In summary, after Summer Commences, we can hear loud and frequent frog’s croaking everywhere. Maybe this is also a blessing that the frogs eat all pests and guarantee good harvest.

The frog’s croaking is lively yet brings in serenity. This is not only the sonata of the nature in the summer night, but also the Ode to the joy on earth.






1. 石夫、韓新愚編著:《不可不知的中華二十四節氣常識》(鄭州:中原農民出版社,2010年)。

2. 張長新主編:《節氣·農事·農諺》(北京:中國農業出版社,2017年)。


Journal Article

1. 王宇琛:〈立夏習俗——多元融合的民俗實踐〉,《文史知識》,第5期(2022年)。

2. 鄧玉霞:〈立夏是個「吃」節〉,《中醫健康養生》,第5期(2018年)。


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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