Chinese lesson: chun
The character for spring – chun 春 – shows the sun 日, still hidden below, but giving warmth and light to encourage vegetation into growth 芚. It is similar to the character for the east – dong 東 – with its image of the sun 日 rising above the horizon and seen through the trees 木.
The left part, the phonetic, of the character yang 陽 also has the image of the sun, but here it is above the horizon, and at its full power. Both the east and the spring are associated with the young yang, the stirring and re-energising of life after a time of darkness and rest, and both the east and the spring are associated with the wood element 木.
The wood phase begins at the Chinese new year, a time when all northern hemisphere calendars mark the return of the light after the three months of winter. In the Celtic calendar it is called imbolc, one of the cross-quarter days, and in the church calendar is celebrated as candlemas. Chinese new year fluctuates according to the phase of the moon – it is always at new moon – and is one of the four gates of the year, often called the gate of heaven.
The image of the seed bursting into life and growth – as we see in the characters for both qi 氣 and jing 精 – encouraged by the return of the light of the sun at the beginning of spring, is often used in the Chinese classical texts to illustrate the action of the liver amongst the five zang. It is the strength and vitality of young yang. And as the seed needs the months of winter in order to germinate, so the liver qi needs its rooting in the kidneys in order to flourish.
According to Neijing Suwen chapter 2, the three months of spring are called springing up and unfolding. The qi of heaven and earth intertwines, bringing a renewal of life. The character translated as ‘springing up’ is fa 發, which shows the crust of the earth being broken open by the power arising from within. The lower part of the character contains the image of a bow 弓 which is often used to illustrate the dynamic tension between the qi of the kidneys – which must hold and maintain – and that of the liver – which wants to expand and move forward. The qi of the liver can only spring forward if it is firmly rooted in the kidneys.
Later in Suwen chapter 2, we see that if there is not enough storing in the winter months, there may be impotence, flaccidity wei 痿 in the spring. Winter and the kidneys represent the seeds of fertility – the spring is the ability to bring that towards fruition.