Noteworthy Dates in the Chinese Calendar – July 2021 Edition

July is packed with festivals for China’s diverse ethnic minorities, including the famous Naadam Festival in Inner Mongolia. Let’s take a look at two of the lesser-known ones!

Double Sixth Festival / Tian Kuang Festival / Clothes Drying Day (July 15th)

Yao people hanging out their clothes on Clothes Drying Festival

This festival takes place on the sixth day of the sixth lunar month, and is called different names and celebrated slightly differently in different parts of China. The origin of the festival is said to be Xuanzang – later immortalized in Journey to the West – drying the wet scriptures he was bringing back to China on this day after they were soaked in seawater on his journey. Thus the day became thought of as a lucky time to ‘dry’ clothes and books by putting them out in the hot sun. This also acted as a way to prevent the clothes and books from becoming moth-eaten or mouldy.

On the sixth day of the sixth month, scholars will dry their books in sun, women will dry their clothes in sun and farmers will pray for their harvest – Ming Dynasty saying

The name Tian Kuang (天贶; ‘gift from heaven’) comes from the Song-dynasty emperor Zhenzong, who announced it to be the official name for the festival after he received scriptures from heaven calling him “a wise ruler, an enlightened emperor who could govern the country and bring peace to all”.  

A Yao woman hangs out clothes on the Clothes Drying Festival

In modern China, however, the festival is better known by its Yao name – the Clothes Drying Festival (晒衣节) which actually translates as ‘putting clothes in the sun festival’. It is celebrated by many of China’s ethnic minorities with music and feasting in the evening after the clothes and books have been taken back inside.

Half Year Festival (July 23rd)

Villagers in Jiashanwu celebrate ‘New Year in the Summer’

The ‘Half Year Festival’ is actually two different festivals with the same name celebrated at the same time.  One is celebrated in part of Zhejiang Province; the other is celebrated in Fujian and Taiwan. How did it originate in Zhejiang? Here is the legend: 

A long time ago, in Jiashanwu Village in Zhejiang Province, it was sunny every single day starting from Qing Ming. The earth cracked and people’s mouths were filled with dust. On the fourteenth day of the sixth month, an old, white-haired man came to the village. With his white hair, he looked like an immortal. The people crowded round him asking for help. He looked at the dry and cracked land and the dry bodies of the old people and the children, and sighed and said, “I can help you, but you must behave like it’s New Year. Be lively and joyous for three days.” The old man disappeared after speaking. The people were skeptical, but they had nothing to lose so they decided to try it. 

During the New Year, they would slaughter pigs and sheep and make wine, but now that there was nothing left, so what could they do? The women had an idea: They got some paper and made chickens, ducks and pigs from it, and tied pieces of bamboo into bundles like firecrackers. And although they didn’t have much food to enjoy, they tried to make the atmosphere as lively as possible. On the third day, the people were bowing to the sky with incense in their hands, when suddenly there was thunder, and finally – heavy rain! The people hurriedly plowed the fields and planted rice. To their surprise, the late rice that year was particularly good and there was much more than in previous years. The people were grateful to the old man. 

Villagers in Jiashanwu celebrate in the same way they have for hundreds of years

On the fourteenth day of the sixth month the following year, the people celebrated in memory of the old man. This time there was plenty of food. Since then, Jiashanwu Village has followed the custom of celebrating this “Half-Year Festival” with as much gusto as the Spring Festival! 

In Fujian, the festival is a celebration of the coming harvest at the halfway point of the year. The people eat ‘half year tangyuan’ 半年圆 made of glutinous rice, similar to the tangyuan that are eaten at the Lantern Festival at the end of Chinese New Year. They are often red for luck, and served without soup.  Many people from Fujian emigrated to Taiwan in the 17th century, taking their customs with them. 

Have you ever celebrated either of these festivals? Let us know in the comments below. We always love hearing your thoughts and insights! 

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