Friday, October 19, 2007

Happy Double Ninth Day!

The beginnings of the Double Ninth Festival can be traced to Chinese philosophy. According to Chinese beliefs, there are two opposing principles in nature called yin and yang. Yin refers to the feminine and negative, while yang refers to the masculine and positive. Everything, including numbers, is classified as either yin or yang. Even numbers are yin but odd numbers are yang.

The ninth day of the ninth month (of the Lunar calendar) is a day when the two highest single yang numbers meet. The day is also known as Chongyang, double yang. Having too much yang makes it a potentially dangerous date. Double nine is pronounced the same as the Chinese character for “forever,” making the day truly an auspicious one.
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Chrysanthemum wine for health
A legend about Chongyang tells of Huang Jing, who was studying magic from Fei Changfang. Fei had become immortal after years of studying Taoism.

One day, as the two were climbing a mountain, Fei foretold that something terrible would happen to Huang's hometown on the ninth day of the ninth month. Fei told Huan to go home immediately. In order to save his loved ones, he was to prepare a red bag with a spray of a plant called zhuyu for each of his family members. They were to tie the bag to their arm and climb to the top of a mountain. More importantly, they were to drink chrysanthemum wine.

Huang and his family did exactly as his teacher ordered. They climbed up the mountain early on the morning of the ninth day of the ninth month and did not return home until the evening. When they did go home, a sorry sight met them – all their pets and livestock were dead.
When Fei heard this, he said that the animals had died instead of Huang Jing's family, who had averted disaster because they had carried out his instructions.

Both the zhuyu and chrysanthemum are known for their cleansing quality and are used to air out houses and cure illnesses. Zhuyu also has a long history as a medicine. In ancient times, it was thought to drive away evil spirits and even prevent people from catching a chill during late autumn.

This legend has given rise to the traditional activities of Chongyang Festival – mountain climbing, carrying a spray of zhuyu, and drinking chrysanthemum wine.
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To the mountains....
Because Chongyang Festival takes place in late autumn, many people take the opportunity to enjoy the bright clear weather before the cold winter comes. People usually go hiking and mountain climbing races are popular, with the winners getting a wreath of zhuyu as a prize.
The journey up the mountains has another significance. Once at the peak, where the view far and wide can be seen, people think of their loved ones who are far away, and wish that they can come home sooner.

Rice cakes, called "gao" which is a homonym for the Chinese character meaning "height", are sold during Chongyang. Some shops even sell them with small flags to symbolize sprigs of zhuyu.
For those who don't live near mountains, going on a picnic and eating these Chongyang cakes take the place of the climb up the summit. It doesn't hurt either that eating those cakes, which can be several layers tall, is supposed to bring prosperity.
Since it is also a time when beautiful chrysanthemum blossoms bloom, Chongyang has evolved into a day of watching and appreciating these flowers. On the days leading up to the festival, school children learn poems about the chrysanthemum and these lovely blossoms are the featured exhibits in some localities.

In literature...
A famous poet of the Tang Dynasty, Wang Wei, composed a poem about the Double Ninth Festival:
As a lonely stranger in the strange land,
Every holiday the homesickness amplifies.
Knowing that my brothers have reached the peak,
All but one is present at the planting of zhuyu.

Even Mao Zedong, the father of the People's Republic of China, wrote a poem called "Double Nine":

Man ages all too easily, not Nature;
Year by year the Double Ninth returns.
On this Double Ninth,
The yellow blooms on the battle field smell sweeter.

Each year the autumn wind blow fierce,Unlike spring's splendour,Yet surpassing spring's splendour,See the endless expanse of frosty sky and water.

Other celebrations today
Because the number nine is the highest single digit, putting two nines together has come to symbolize long life. Today, Chongyang is a time to pay respects to the elderly and a time for them to enjoy themselves. In 1989, the Chinese government designated Chongyang as a day for senior citizens.
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1 comment:

Nikki & Larry said...

Thanks for this post. Very interesting!

Smiles! :o)