As an integral part of the traditional Chinese lunisolar calendar, the twenty-four jieqi 節氣 (solar terms) divide the year and four seasons into twenty-four segments, each consisting of fifteen days. Each solar term is further divided into three five-day periods called hou 候 (pentad). Among these pentads, the twenty-four pentads between the solar terms xiaohan 小寒 (Moderate Cold) and guyu 穀雨 (Grain Rain) are each associated with one flower. It is believed that the wind fulfils its promise of spring by bringing the flowers into bloom one by one, signaling the passage of time. As the last one among these twenty-four comes into flower, the spring also comes to an end.
With the day of Moderate Cold falling on 5 January this year, we have just passed the first and second pentads after it, so it seems a fitting decision to embark on a journey through Dong Gao’s 董誥 (1740-1818) album entitled “Ershisi fan huaxinfeng” 二十四番花信風 (Twenty-Four Flower-Message Wind), each leaf with a poem by Jiaqing Emperor 嘉慶 (1760-1820, ruling 1796-1820).
Picture credit: National Palace Museum, Taipei
Ten thousand flowers owe their lives to nature’s craftsmanship;
One message from the flower, with a breath of wind.
Southern branches heralding genuine news,
The frosty enchantress first unfurls among ice and snow.
First pentad after Moderate Cold: plum blossoms
A tree of a thousand blossoms buds with scarlet petals,
[Like] kindling rosy clouds, dazzling sun, beaming in lush profusion.
In the wintry time, regardless of thick, icy frost,
The clusters of pistils are just well suited to chilly gusts.
Second pentad after Moderate Cold: camellia
 Red characters rhyme.
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