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The Double Ninth Festival

The Double Ninth Festival

The Double Ninth Festival falls on the ninth day of the ninth lunar month. According to the Book of Changes, the number six is considered as yin while nine is yang. The ninth day of the ninth lunar month in the Chinese calendar features two nines, so the day is given the Chinese name "chong yang" (chong means double in Chinese). In the old days, the day was considered auspicious and was widely observed.

There are various festivities during the Double Ninth Festival, including sightseeing, climbing a high mountain, appreciating chrysanthemums, planting zhuyu (a kind of plant), eating Chongyang cakes, and drinking chrysanthemum wine.

The sound of nine is jiu in Chinese, which is exactly the same as the sound of the Chinese character that denotes longevity. Traditionally nine is also believed to imply longevity as it is the largest single-digit number. Autumn is the golden season for harvest and which gives additional significance to the Double Ninth Festival. People have had special affection for this festival since ancient times, exemplified by the refined poems of the Tang and Song dynasties extolling the festival.

Today, the Double Ninth Festival has been given new meaning. In 1989, the Chinese government set it as a day for showing respect to the elderly, requiring that people should respect, care, love and help the elderly. This is indeed a perfect fusion of tradition and modernity. Activities, including autumn outings, sightseeing and mountain climbing, are organized during the festival for older, retired people so that they can enjoy nature. Many young people also accompany the elderly on outings, or prepare some delicious food for them.

The Origin of the Double Ninth Festival

Like many other traditional festivals, the Double Ninth Festival also has its own story.

Legend has it that there was a monster in the Ruhe River that brought illness to people in the Eastern Han Dynasty. Wherever it went, people died from the disease it brought, and people back then were ravaged by this monster.

A plague claimed the lives of a young man's parents, and he, named Huan Jing, almost lost his life as a result of the epidemic. Having recuperated, he said goodbye to his beloved wife and fellow countrymen and set out to learn magic so that he could rid them of this monster. He visited many places and masters, and was eventually told of an ancient hill in the east, home to a Taoist immortal with supernatural power. Heedless of the dangers and difficulties he embarked on this long journey and, guided by the sacred crane, reached the hill and finally found the Taoist immortal. Touched by his undaunted sprit, the immortal took him as his disciple, taught him the art of swordplay and gave him a sword for exorcising devils. Huan practiced the art of swordplay whole-heartedly and until he achieved perfect mastery.

One day, the immortal asked Huan to come to him, saying, "Tomorrow is the ninth day of the ninth lunar month. The monster will be back to harm the people. You have already mastered the art of swordplay. Now it's time for you to save the people from the monster's ravages." The immortal gave Huan a bag of zhuyu (a kind of plant) leaves and a bottle of chrysanthemum wine, enlightened him on the ways of exorcism, and told him to ride a sacred crane home.

Huan arrived at his hometown on the morning of the ninth day of the ninth lunar month, summoned all the villagers to a nearby hill and gave each of them a zhuyu leaf and a cup of chrysanthemum wine as the immortal had told him. At noon, with loud roars, the monster rose from Ruhe River, but stopped suddenly at the foot of the hill when it smelled the fragrance of the zhuyu leaves and wine. Its face paled as Huan came down from the hill with his sword to exorcise it. After several rounds of fighting, he finally stabbed and killed the monster. Thereafter, the tradition of climbing to a higher place on the ninth day of the ninth lunar month to be rid of plague has been passed down from generation to generation.