Weather Talk


With the arrival of 春天 (chūn tiān), spring, nature shows signs of rebirth and renewal. The character 春 congruously resembles a plant sprouting under the sun. In China it’s not the 水仙 (shuǐ xiān), daffodil, that heralds the beginning of spring, but rather 迎春花 (yíng chūn huā), winter jasmine. The 春风 (chūn fēng), spring breeze, dissipates the grim clouds of winter to make way for 蓝天白云 (lán tiān bái yún), blue skies and white clouds. 春暖花开 (chūn nuǎn huā kāi), flowers blossom in the warm spring, and 风平浪静 (fēng píng làng jìng), the wind is soft and the waves are calm. These phrases about spring scenes serve as poetic metaphors for feelings of inner tranquility or for peaceful situations.

But 天有不测风云 (tiān yǒu bú cè fēng yún), the sky often brings unanticipated winds and clouds, or the future is unpredictable. The ancient Chinese relied upon 星相学 (xīng xiàng xúe), astrology, to forecast worldly events. They believed that changes in the sky foretell or reflect changes in human society. Hence is the importance of climatic elements in Chinese philosophy. Thus, the emperor was called 天子 (tiān zǐ), son of Heaven, and the country is also called 天下 (tiān xià), everything under the sky. All of the celestial bodies were subjects for study by Chinese astrologers; including 日 (rì), sun, 月 (yuè), moon, and 星 (xīng), star. 星 combines the characters 日 and 生 (shēng), born, suggesting that stars are born from the sun.

Many Chinese words correspond to celestial bodies. For example, 明 (míng), clear or bright, combines the two characters for sun and moon, the two brightest bodies in the sky. Likewise, there is a moon in 阴 (yīn), feminine or negative, and a sun in 阳 (yáng), masculine or positive. The two planets are deemed natural dualities of opposite natures – like yin and yang – such as light and dark, hot and cold, fire and water, life and death.

When the Chinese endure many trials and hardships, they say they have passed through 风风雨雨 (fēng fēng yǔ yǔ), winds and rains. Nevertheless, life isn’t always so hard and after the rain comes clear skies, 雨过天晴 (yǔ guò tiān qíng). In France, we say that after the rain comes the time for mushrooms. But for the Chinese this is the time for bamboo shoots, 雨后春笋 (yǔ hòu chūn sǔn). This signifies thriving development and rapid growth. But the wind and rain are not always enemies; when arriving at the right time and appropriate amount they create favorable weather, this is 风调雨顺 (fēng tiáo yǔ shùn). Also, the wind brings news and friends. Hearsay is 风闻 (fēng wén). When greeting an unexpected friend you might ask 什么风把你吹来了 (shén me fēng bǎ nǐ chuī lái le)? “What good wind brings you here?”

Fatalistic people in China attribute their fortunes to 天意 (tiān yì), the will of Heaven. This is similar to what we call God’s will in the West. The Chinese expression 尽人事, 听天命 (jìn rén shì, tīng tiān mìng) also has an English equivalent: man proposes, God disposes. Natural gifts are 天赋 (tiān fù). Sudden good luck is 天上掉馅儿饼 (tiān shang diào xiànr bǐng), stuffed breads falling from the sky! But when facing natural disasters, Chinese people also believe they are handed out by Heaven, so referring to them as 天灾 (tiān zāi).

我的天 (wǒ de tiān), good Heavens! It’s time to wrap up. 改天见 (gǎi tiān jiàn), see you later!