Four Seasons Salad
By SEBASTIEN ROUSSILLAT
China certainly has 四季 (sì jì), four seasons. Another way of expressing “four seasons” in Chinese is 春夏秋冬 (chūn xià qiū dōng), spring, summer, autumn and winter. In addition, the Chinese use the time-honored 二十四节气 (èr shí sì jié qì), 24 solar terms, in farming. The 24 solar terms can be regarded as subdivided seasons that include 立春 (lì chūn), Start of Spring, 立夏 (lì xià), Start of Summer, 立秋 (lì qiū), Start of Autumn, 立冬 (lì dōng), Start of Winter, 清明 (qīng míng), Clear and Bright, also known as Tomb Sweeping Day, 芒种 (máng zhòng), Grain in Ear, 小雪 (xiǎo xuě), Light Snow, and 寒露 (hán lù), Cold Dew, to name a few. Each refers to a period of time within a certain season. For example, 清明 generally falls in early April of the Gregorian calendar. It is a time when “everything is growing, clear and bright.” Important activities on this day include tomb sweeping and ancestor worshipping. 芒种 literally means “to finish harvesting wheat and start planting other crops,” an agricultural guideline.
Now let’s take a look at what makes up a Chinese four seasons salad. We start from 季节 (jì jié), season. 季 (jì) is made up of 禾 (hé) and 子 (zǐ). 禾 means grain or seedling. 子 loans the pronunciation of 籽 (zǐ), seed, referring to fruit. Consequently, 季 shows the course from budding to bearing fruits. The original meaning of 节 (jié) is bamboo joint and has been expanded to mean “segment” to indicate a measurement.
Generally speaking, there are 一年四季 (yì nián sì jì), four seasons in one year, in a 温带气候 (wēn dài qì hòu), temperate climate. However, in some regions, people have to “endure” a climate that is 四季如春 (sì jì rú chūn), like spring all year round. Plants 四季常青 (sì jì cháng qīng), remain green throughout the year. It is hard to imagine how people in those regions “survive” such a “harsh” environment!
Chinese people are fond of spring. It is a season for 播种 (bō zhǒng), sowing. There is a saying in China that 一年之计在于春 (yì nián zhī jì zài yú chūn), the whole year’s work depends on a good start in spring. The character 春 (chūn), spring, looks like a small plant thriving in the sunshine. 风和日丽 (fēng hé rì lì), gentle breeze and bright sunshine, is a phrase often used to describe a spring day. Moreover, Chinese people believe that spring is a season when 万物复苏 (wàn wù fù sū), everything wakes up from a long sleep. Willows usually represent spring. Therefore, people often mention 花红柳绿 (huā hóng liǔ lǜ), red blossoms and green willows, when speaking of spring. On top of that, 鸟语花香 (niǎo yǔ huā xiāng), birds’ twitter and the fragrance of flowers, is another phrase to describe a spring scene.
It is hot in 夏天 (xià tiān), summer, in China, especially in the four “furnaces,” which refer to the cities of Nanjing, Nanchang, Wuhan, and Chongqing. That’s why there is a phrase 暑气蒸人 (shǔ qì zhēng rén), the summer heat is so oppressive that one feels like they are sitting in a steaming pot. Thunderstorms are common in summer. In the southern part of the country, June and July are called 梅雨季节 (méi yǔ jì jié), plum rain season, since the rainy season begins when plums ripen. In some places, the humidity is intense in this season and things easily get mildewed. People in these regions hence also call it 霉雨季节 (méi yǔ jì jié), mold rain season.
The 酷暑 (kù shǔ), scorching summer, is followed by cool 秋天 (qiū tiān), autumn. The weather is fine and the sky is clear. We often say 秋高气爽 (qiū gāo qì shuǎng), the autumn sky is clear and the air is crisp. It is 收获的季节 (shōu huò de jì jié), a season for harvest. The character 秋 (qiū), autumn, is formed by 禾 (hé), grain, and 火 (huǒ), fire, indicating it is a time to burn the straw stubble after the wheat harvest. In Chinese, autumn is often described poetically as 金秋 (jīn qiū), golden autumn. This probably comes from the golden color of fallen leaves and of some kinds of ripe fruits in autumn. 枫树 (fēng shù), maple, represents autumn in China. Maple trees’ 红叶 (hóng yè), red leaves, embellish Chinese gardens and parks.
冬天 (dōng tiān), winter, in northern China is 寒冷 (hán lěng), frigid. When it snows, it becomes 冰天雪地 (bīng tiān xuě dì), a world of ice and snow. In the northern provinces of China, the temperature may drop to -30 ℃ in winter — 寒冷刺骨 (hán lěng cì gǔ), bone-gnawing cold! Sometimes, Chinese people will say 冰冻三尺非一日之寒 (bīng dòng sān chǐ fēi yí rì zhī hán), thick ice doesn’t freeze in one day, indicating that a certain situation is brought about by a long-term development, which is along the lines of the English saying, “Rome was not built in a day.” 梅花 (méi huā), plum blossoms, are usually in full bloom in a frozen and snow-covered land. Hence, writers and poets use plum blossoms to praise a lofty and uncompromising personality. The spring comes when the winter is over. 回春了 (huí chūn le), spring returns!