In early October comes the solar term Hanlu (Cold Dew). Preceded by Autumnal Equinox, Hanlu signifies the arrival of late autumn, when maize has been harvested in Northern China and the planting of winter wheat begins. Summer’s sweltering heat has long gone. Accompanied by the cold dew, autumnal winds sweep through the multi-coloured woods and forests.
Hanlu is the perfect time to enjoy the captivating chrysanthemums. Half a century ago, the Chinese painter, calligrapher and poet Wen Zhengming wrote: “In the small courtyard, time passes by; Greenness disappears and flowers have died; Except for the violet and purple chrysanthemums, who dance in the autumn wind, looking dignified.” (Trans. by Li 2021) Indeed, chrysanthemums represent dignity and decency in the Chinese culture. Zheng Bowen’s artwork brings alive the spirit of chrysanthemums in the Mogu (or “boneless”) manner. Painted without outlines but by washes of ink and colour, the flowers fluttering in the autumn wind add a sense of beauty to the late autumn days.
Hanlu is also the time when wild geese fly south. Ancient Chinese took the migration of geese as seasonal indicators, considering the wild goose as a messenger of love for friends separated by a great distance. The ink and wash painting by Bai Jie depicts several wild geese perching in the reeds on their way home. Using black ink, as used in calligraphy, in different concentrations, the painter has rendered the reeds, the cold pond and the geese smothered in autumnal mist and fog, creating a harmonious natural scene.
In the Chinese culture, nature is thought-provoking and a source of inspiration for man. Lv Bo’s painting depicts the bleakness of late autumn with a few withered stems and leaves. The artist appears to be inspired by the hazy natural scene. Just like what was written in an ancient poem: “Chrysanthemums sparkle with the cold dew; After the reed catkins, the evening wind pursue; To whom shall I propose a toast? Solitude with nature offers a profound view.” (Trans. by Li 2021)
Hanlu is characterized by good harvest, withered lotus, or perhaps the distant and expansive mountains and woods. Such natural sceneries resonate with people’s hearts, as shown in Lao Shu’s painting which imparts a sense of simplicity and serenity. A man is facing the distant mountains, as if detached from the hustle and bustle of the world. The refreshing coolness brought by Hanlu inspires the hermit who meditates on the immensity and eternity of nature.
Just like chrysanthemums, the solar term Hanlu (Cold Dew) adds a touch of beauty to the flowing seasons; despite the upcoming cold and frost, it nurtures hope and vitality with composure and dignity.