Kite flying is a favorite pastime during the Chongyang Festival (or Double Ninth Festival). Integral to the celebration is drinking wine made from the chrysanthemum plant, whose properties are said to drive away evil spirits. PHOTO BY TOM CHRISTENSEN.
The Chongyang Festival dates from a legend first described in the fifth century CE, in which a magician warns a young scholar to get his family to higher ground on the ninth day of the ninth month to avoid calamity.
The Chongyang Festival is also known as “Denggao Jie” (Mountain Climbing Festival) and “Juhua Jie” (Chrysanthemum Festival) after the major activity or item involved in the event. The festival falls on the ninth day of the ninth lunar month—hence the name chongyang (double nine). On that day people old and young climb mountains or high ground, taking with them chrysanthemum wine and sweet flour fruit cake and wearing dogwood leaves (Evodia rutaecarpa) on their heads or arms. In Chinese folk medicine chrysanthemum wine has the ability to lower blood pressure and thus extend life.
In Chinese folk belief chrysanthemum, whose yellow color is similar to that of sulfur, has the ability to ward off ghosts or evil spirits. Likewise, in Chinese folk medicine, dogwood leaf is used to prevent mosquitoes and to treat cholera. Thus, people who leave congested cities for high mountains in early autumn and take along food that has medicinal uses have health considerations in mind, as do those who attend the Dragon Boat Festival on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month.
Scholars generally believe that the Chongyang Festival was a post–Han dynasty (206 BCE–220 CE) development. The earliest record of the festival is in a book, Xu Qixieji 续齐谐记, compiled by Wu Jun in 469–450 CE. According to legend, Huan Jing, a young scholar, once studied under a famous magician, Fei Changfang, for several years. One day Fei warned Huan, “Your family would face major calamity on the ninth day of the ninth month. You should go home and bring your family members to high grounds on that day. Tie dogwood leaves on their arms and ask them to drink chrysanthemum wine. This would prevent the disaster from happening to your entire family” (Bodde 1977, 69). Huan followed his master’s advice and rushed home. He took all the members of his family to a nearby mountain on the morning of the ninth day of the ninth lunar month. They carried chrysanthemum wine in bottles and dogwood leaves on their arms. At dusk when they returned to their farmhouse, they found that all the domestic animals, including dogs, oxen, sheep, goats, and fowl, had died of unknown causes. It is said that ever since that time, people have followed this practice of climbing mountains or high ground on that day, carrying the specified wine and foods.
The late professor Wolfram Eberhard believed that the Chongyang Festival, similar to Zhong Qiu (Moon Festival), was not originally a Han Chinese festival. It was, he believed, a festival belonging to the Yue people who once lived widely scattered in south China’s Fujian and Guangdong provinces but who now live mainly in Vietnam. As agriculturalists, the Yue people celebrated the completion of their harvest by hiking up the mountains to avoid the dangers lurking in the valleys.
<h2 class="bibliographyFurther Reading
Bodde, D. (1975). Festivals in classical China: New Year’s and other annual observances during the Han dynasty, 206 B.C.–A.D. 220. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Bodde, D. (Trans.). (1977). Annual customs and festivals in Peking: As recorded in the Yen-ching Suishih-chi by Tun Li-Ch’en. Taipei: Southern Materials Center. (Original work published 1936)
Eberhard, W. (1958). Chinese festivals. London: Abelard-Schuman.
Eberhard, W. (1968). The local cultures of south and east China. Leiden, The Netherlands: E. J. Brill.
Source: Huang, Shumin. (2009). Chongyang Festival. In Linsun Cheng, et al. (Eds.), Berkshire Encyclopedia of China, pp. 383–384. Great Barrington, MA: Berkshire Publishing.