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In Chinese lunar calendar, starting from 冬至, which was yesterday, you can count 9 days as the first 9 days, and subsequently second, third,...,until ninth nine days, a total of 81 days. After you count 81 days, the weather starts getting warm. My question is, are there specific english translations associated with this? I tried to describe it to other people, but find it too difficult to explain. How would you describe it to other people?

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  • I know that I've been lax in the past, but this sort of question really belongs on English SE. – dROOOze Dec 23 '19 at 3:26
  • Hmm...how can I know people in English SE know Chinese? – sylvia Dec 23 '19 at 3:42
  • @droooze Maybe, this kind belongs to either because it might be culture-specific only. – dan Dec 23 '19 at 3:43
  • In your English SE question, you describe it as a cultural thing to start from the winter solstice and count 81 days, after which it is traditionally believed that the weather turns warm again, and if there is a similar English saying. There is no need for them to understand Chinese culture. – dROOOze Dec 23 '19 at 3:47
  • @droooze ah ic. I agree with dan that this is culture specific. Maybe Chinese SE should cater for those questions too. – sylvia Dec 23 '19 at 3:50
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More precisely, the traditional Chinese calendar is a "lunisolar calendar system".

The 數九 are verses to describe observable agricultural phenomena (~物候) between winter and spring in the north temperate zone of certain regions of China. (They're not suitable for the southern regions, Manchu, west of Kokonor, or Tibet.)

After ~1644, the four-and-twenty solar terms (二十四節氣) are relatively fixed in relation to Gregorian calendar, so the winter solstice (冬至) is most likely on 21-23 December of each year; after 81 days, it's 11-13 March of the next year.

E.g. the winter solstice is on 22 December 2019, so:

一九二九不出手

During 22 Dec 2019 to 09 Jan 2020, it's so cold that people decline to expose their bare hands (keeping them in their sleeves instead).

三九四九冰上走

During 10 Jan 2020 to 27 Jan 2020, people might walk on frozen rivers (the ice is thick and solid, implying the coldest of times).

五九和六九・河邊看楊柳

During 28 Jan 2020 to 14 Feb 2020, willows along riverbanks have leaves.

七九河凍開・八九燕歸來

During 15 Feb 2020 to 23 Feb 2020, the river ice begins to break up.

During 24 Feb 2020 to 3 Mar 2020, the swallows (i.e., migratory birds) return.

九九加一九・耕牛遍地走

During 04 Mar 2020 to 21 Mar 2020, the farm cattle work every field.

(To make this answer simpler to read, I omitted the solar term [節氣] and astronomical aspects.)

how would you describe it to other people

Well, you may recommend the extract of "The American Agriculturist's Almanac" for the year 1844:

The following brief hints to the farmer, planter and gardener will be found to apply not only to the months under which they are arranged, but owing to diversity of seasons, climate and soils, they may frequently answer for other months. This precaution the considerate agriculturist will not fail to notice and apply in all cases where his judgment and experience may dictate.

https://archive.org/details/americanagricult1844alle/page/21

Have fun :)

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This Beijing Tourism page has an English article about the 9 nine-day periods:

Nines of Winter in China

People in China talk about winter coming in nine periods and each period is 9 days long, which begins from the Winter Solstice. After 9 nine-day periods the weather becomes warmer and spring will be on its way.

The 3rd nine-day period is called ‘Sanjiu’ in Chinese, which refers to the 19th-27th days after the day of the Winter Solstice. There is an old saying in China that goes, "The days of the Sanjiu period are the coldest days."

There is a famous folk song about the Nines of Winter (called ‘Shujiu’) recording changes in the weather:

1st nine days, 2nd nine days, don’t take hands out of your pockets;

3rd nine days, 4th nine days, you can walk on ice;

5th nine days, 6th nine days, willows at the river’s edge start to sprout;

7th nine days, ice dissolves and water flows in the river;

8th nine days, wild geese fly back to northern areas;

9th nine days and the following days, farm cattle start to work in the field.

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...are there specific [English] translations associated with this?

Starting with 数九 from Baidu Baike, and selecting the relevant parts to explain this to someone, I might say something like:

Counting Nines, also called Winter's Nine Nines, is a Chinese folk method for counting the cold period before spring. Starting from winter solstice, we count nine periods of nine days. When we reach 81 days, warm days of spring have arrived and its time for farmers to plow.

There's also Travel China Guide in English, but the wording is imprecise, so let's rewrite it:

A popular Chinese winter-solstice tradition called Counting Nine Nines involves counting nine periods of nine days starting from the winter solstice. After "nine nines" (i.e., 81 days), spring will have arrived.


Another online example is:

People in China talk about winter coming in nine periods and each period is 9 days long, which begins from the Winter Solstice. After 9 nine-day periods the weather becomes warmer and spring will be on its way.
Nines of winter in China

(This is the same as in user3306356's answer.)

And some dictionary references for 数九 are:

  • the nine periods following the winter solstice (source: YouDao)
  • nine periods of nine days each after winter solstice, the coldest time of the year (source: CC-CEDICT via Yabla)
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  • I think Counting Nines might mean the way to do multiplication, i.e. the 乘法表. – sylvia Dec 23 '19 at 3:45
  • So you don't have it in your country? – dan Dec 23 '19 at 3:45
  • I like Winter's Nine Nines. Thanks for the info. – sylvia Dec 23 '19 at 3:47
  • It's hard for me to imagine "Counting Nines" as being confused with a mathematical procedure; normally it'd be called the "Nine Times Table". There's also "Casting out Nines". (I'm not sure if "your country" is directed at me. In any case, I live in China now, so my country is China, and I guess it does exist here. Although I was born in Australia, and I'd never heard of this concept until this post, so I don't think it exists there.) – Becky 李蓓 Dec 23 '19 at 3:52
  • @Becky李蓓 thanks. I see. I was not sure about Counting Nines. I googled it, and it showed results with Nine Times Table. I should have used question mark at the end of my first comment. – sylvia Dec 23 '19 at 3:56

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