Category Archives: 4 Seasons

Spring Festival’s Cleaning Day



The old saying in Chinese for the 24th day of the last lunar month (i.e., today) is “二十四扫房日(èr shí sì sǎo fāng rì)”, “the 24th is cleaning day.” On this day, the whole family, male and female, the old and the young, devote themselves to a thorough cleaning. They may clean the yard, wipe down cooking utensils, wash clothes and blinds and throw away worn things.

The origin of the cleaning day lies in a story. In the story, San Shi Shen (三尸神 sān shī shén) is an evil spirit, a whistle-blower who spoke ill of human beings. He reported to the Jade Emperor that the humans planned to rebel against the Court of Heaven (天庭 tiān tíng). The Jade Emperor got very angry and ordered San Shi Shen to draw a mark on the doors of the families who committed the crime of offending the powerful emperor. In order to frame human beings, San Shi Shen marked almost every door. The kitchen god found out this and suggested that the families do a thorough cleaning after the small Spring Festival day. Therefore, when the Jade Emperor sent other gods to check for the marks on the eve of the lunar New Year, there was nothing on the doors. Everyone could enjoy a peaceful Spring Festival.


In the Chinese, “尘” (chén, dust) has the same pronunciation as “陈” (chén, staleness). As a result, to sweep dust (扫尘 sǎochén) also means to sweep away staleness (扫陈 sǎochén) in the house. Doing the cleaning not only makes rooms tidy, it also has the purpose of sweeping away misfortune and welcoming the coming year with a totally new outlook.


Nowadays, while many other traditions are fading away, the house cleaning custom maintains its vitality. On this day, people also would like to buy some new year pictures or paper-cuts to stick on the windows as Spring Festival decorations.


Spring Festival’s Tofu Day



Your mouth will be watering if you hear this Chinese saying :

[In the final lunar month] the 23rd is the day for melon-shaped maltose eating, the 24th for house cleaning, the 25th for tofu making, the 26th for meat buying, the 27th for chicken preparation, the 28th for leavened dough and the 29th for man tou steaming.
èr shí sān, táng guā zhān, èr shí sì, sǎo fángzi, èr shí wǔ, zuò dòufu, èr shí lìu, qù mǎi ròu, èr shí qì, zǎi gòngjī, èr shí bā, bǎ miàn fā, èr shí jǐu, zhēng mántóu.



From the 25th day of the last month of the lunar year, people begin their preparation of food for Spring Festival. That is because according to the old tradition, family members are not allowed to use knives to cook on the eve and first day of lunar New Year. On the second day, they begin visiting friends and relatives. Consequently, Chinese people need to get 4 to 5 days’ food done before the holiday starts!


Why make tofu? the Chinese character “腐” has the same pronunciation with character “福 fú” (happiness). Making tofu also means welcoming happiness and a good harvest in the new year.


As for the food itself, tofu is a very good substitution for meat. In the old days, poor people always looked forward to a feast of meat on New Year’s Day. However, they were often too poor to afford one. So they turned to tofu, which was “in between” meat and vegetables, and made various dishes from it instead of meat.


Besides making tofu, inNortheast China, people also used to paste paper in the windows on this day. Since living conditions were fairly bad in the old days, people had to paste a layer of paper over their windows to prevent drafts and keep warmth in the room (today, this is still practiced in parts of Northern China, although many people have replaced paper with Saran wrap). Replacing the last year’s paper with new paper and pasting red Spring Festival couplets provides a jubilant atmosphere for the new year.




Enough eating, time to clear up, with Spring Fest’s Cleaning Day. 

Use TCM to Welcome the Vernal Season Safely



Spring is the season of growth, and a new beginning to the year. The movement in the air seems like a rebirth of our mother earth. To accustom our way to the spring is to sleep later and wake earlier, to take walks with our hair flying in the wind, to wear loose clothes, to allow an open and joyful outlook to life. Instead of killing, let growth happen. Instead of stealing, give abundantly. Instead of punishing, reward by teaching. This is the way of the Dao.”

《黄帝内经》, “Yellow Emperor’s Canon of Internal Medicine”


Time to venture out in the cold.


Forget about sleeping late in the morning! As spring arrives, the sun peeks its head out earlier and sets later in the evening. And yes, unfortunately, as an extension of mother earth, we humans should do the same. Get up and inhale China’s fresh air. You might even taste the morning dew in the wind.


Wear Clothes


Yes, definitely wear clothes. Sometimes, when we see the sun peeking out from the horizon and sprouts of greens stirring in the soil, we get so excited that we automatically wear less. But spring weather is never predictable. A ripple of wind or a sudden drop in temperature will bring on the goose bumps, which may feel tingly, but isn’t such a good thing. In winter, our pores are closed up, to guard from the cold and to keep our yang in storage. In the spring, the pores open up, freeing the yang. Freeze the pores, and they’ll quickly close up again, leading to excess internal heat, or shanghuo, which can lead to common spring ailments such as mouth ulcers, acne, migraine headaches, and insomnia. So do keep warm, and never question wearing a scarf around your neck.


Eat Plants and Herbs


During springtime, daylight starts to lengthen, eruptions start to break through earth, and before you know it, vegetation has announced its arrival. Buy Brussels sprouts, bean sprouts, tender herb-like vegetables, or any in-season greens. One seasonal vegetable in the north of China that I love is a fragrant herby vegetable, xiangchun (香椿), used to make xiangchun tofu. In TCM, this vegetable is considered a gift, known to treat stomachache, lethargy, and constitutions with high body temperatures. It’s also high in protein, fiber, iron, vitamin E, and calcium. Only around for the two to three months of spring, the best time to try xiangchun is March, so keep it in mind the next time you venture into a local restaurant!


I know I am getting sleepy trying to finish writing this article. Naps are AWESOME during the springtime. There is an old expression in China, chunkun (春困), which translates to “spring drowsiness.” Our vernal season excitement overrides the body, which is just waking up from hibernation. This internal clock of ours wakes up earlier than it did in wintertime, full of excitement, planning, thinking, OH MY! Listen to your body and take naps if necessary. Enjoy outdoor activities without overwhelming the physical body. Or just eat more xiangchun.


The Art of Patience


This is a hard art to learn. A plant does not grow to maturity overnight, nor does a flower blossom in a day. Spring is a time to de-clutter, refine, redefine, and renew your positive outlook. Refrain from frustration and anger when things don’t run as anticipated. Give time and space for situations, and even for your own body and mind, to grow and heal.


If you fail to follow these guidelines, the Yellow Emperor makes his warning perfectly clear. “Your liver will be imbalanced. The coldness will seep in when summer comes. And there will be limitations in both abundance and growth.”


Frances Ren Huang is a Beijing-based TCM consultant and yoga teacher, with a master’s in clinical acupuncture. For more information, you can reach her at

Beat the Summer Heat with Turtle Shell Jelly (龟苓膏)


Traditional guilinggao recipes require boiling turtle shell for many hours, first by itself, then with a variety of herbal ingredients, so that the liquid is gradually evaporated and a jelly-like residue forms. Rice flour and corn starch is added to “thicken” the product.[5][3]

The ingredients of traditional guilinggao consists of 300g tortoise plastron,
80g rehmannia root,
80g honeysuckle flower,
80g smilax rhizome,
80g Chinese mesona,
40g abrus fruit,
32g atractylodes rhizome,
32g forsythia fruit,
20g dandelion,
20g dictamnus root bark,
20g siler root,
20g schizonepeta spike,
20g chrysanthemum flower,
20g lysimachia,
30 bowls of water, boiled to half its volume. 375g of rice flour and 80g of corn flour are used to thicken the decoction.

Guilinggao jelly can be prepared at home from commercially sold powdered concentrate (the “guilinggao powder”),[3] similarly to how Jello is made. When it is prepared, other herbal substances, such as ginseng, are added to the jelly to give it certain tastes and medicinal values.

Pear Soup: The Secret Remedy for Your Fall Cold


Feeling a little under the weather since the start of fall? Well you’re not alone; especially in Beijing, where steamy summers evaporate into dry fall weather, lots of people develop colds and dry coughs.

But never fear! Just in time for cold-weather colds, our September 2011 Youth Issue gives you the lowdown on the tastiest cough remedy you’ll quaff this season: pear soup. According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, pears are perfect for dry autumn coughs because they moisten the body and increase the yin, or cool, liquidy side, in your yin-yang balance.

But you don’t need a Chinese mother to have fresh pear soup on hand. Making your own is a snap! Try our recipe, listed below, as soon as you’re starting to feel that dry hack coming on. And for those of you with a sweet tooth, try out our pear dessert for an equally beneficial (and 100 times more gnashable) treat.

Basic Chinese Pear Soup (梨汤)


2-3 Chinese pears

Rock sugar (to taste)

2 tbsp Goji berries

2 tbsp white Chinese almonds

4 pieces white fungus

5-6 c. water


1. Soak white fungus in water for 15-20 minutes. When soft, remove and chop.

2. Cut pears into 1-2 cm3 squares.

3. Bring water to a boil, and add all ingredients.

4. Simmer for 40-60 minutes.

Like pears, white fungus is great to help clear and moisten lungs, while Goji berries are alleged to be packed with antioxidants and anti-inflammatory agents. However, if you can’t get your hands on these ingredients, you can simply boil chopped pears with sugar and water. (For a low-sugar version, substitute honey for the rock sugar.)

Steamed Candied Pears (冰糖蒸梨)


1 large Chinese pear

1 tsp fresh ginger

1 tbsp rock sugar or honey to taste


  1. After washing your pear, chop off the top and scoop out the core.
  2. Place three slices (or about 1 tsp) of fresh ginger inside the pear, along with sugar or honey.
  3. Replace the top of the pear, and steam for 30 minutes, or until tender.

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