Autumn in China begins around August 7 according to the Chinese lunar calendar. This is hard to understand from a Western point of view because the temperatures are still brutally hot in most places except the far north. More of a “turning point” than a change in temperature, the beginning of autumn is a marker of hope and expectation for cooler weather.
Crickets are said to reach maturity when Autumn begins. You can hear their singing in the evenings, even in the cities. You can also hear their songs in the cricket markets, where cricket aficionados gather to appreciate the songs of the singing crickets and debate the merits of the fighting varieties. Bringing a cricket into the house is a wonderful way to extend the fall season as winter approaches.
The Mid-Autumn Moon Festival is a major autumn holiday in China. Families gather and spend the evening eating together, especially “mooncakes”, dried fruit and nuts wrapped in a pastry shell, often with hard boiled egg yolks in the middle to represent the beautiful autumn moon.
Red Leaves begin to appear in the mountains, and are deeply appreciated. Whole cities can turn out on autumn weekends for mountain climbing and hikes through local hills. Watch out for mountainous traffic jams! If you are from the northern part of the US or Canada, it won’t be as spectacular a show. But red leaves are exciting no matter where they are.
Fall Fruits also bring the flavor of Autumn to the table. In China the summer ends with juicy Honey Peaches, but autumn brings sweet chestnuts which you can find roasted in woks full of hot stones on street corners, huge yellow and red pomegranates, and crisp red Fuji apples with their delightful fragrance and flavor.
Sweet Osmanthus blooms in the Autumn in the south, and you can take the blossoms and put them in sugar to make a perfumed syrup to use in sweet soups during the winter months, an aromatic reminder of warmer days.
Fall is considered a melancholy time in China because the harvest is finished, the days are shorter, and many of the green trees and plants are in the dying period of their cycle. Because there are these feelings associated with Autumn, it is considered a good time to write poetry. Take a glass of wine out to share with the moon and you may get struck with writer’s muse !
And if by chance your own poem doesn’t arise, here is an Autumn poem by a Tang Dynasty (618 – 907 AD) poet, Ma Dai.
An Autumn Cottage at Ba Shan
After the shower at Bashang,
I see an evening line of wildgeese,
The limp-hanging leaves of a foreign tree,
A lantern’s cold gleam, lonely in the night,
An empty garden, white with dew,
The ruined wall of a neighbouring monastery.
…I have taken my ease here long enough.
What am I waiting for, I wonder.