I Ching is the very foundation of the Chinese culture, which
uses a set of symbols and numbers to mirror the process of
change in the real world, with odd numbers representing the
active principle of yang, and even numbers signifying the
passive principle of yin. As the biggest odd number, nine
stands for the yang energy that is at its peak before a gradual
decline. Understandably, when it comes to the ninth day of
the ninth lunar month, a correlation between the number and
the revered mature age is drawn, and thus the Double Yang
or Double Nine (重阳) is celebrated as the festival of longevity.
While the tomb sweeping festival is a time for family-oriented
spring outing as Chinese people pay respects to their deceased
ancestors and to tidy their gravesite, the Double Nine provides
an occasion for family-oriented autumn excursion as part
of the way to show gratitude to their living elderly.
The traditional activities during the Double Nine festival
include climbing hills or towers, carrying a spray of dogwood,
drinking chrysanthemum wine and eating chrysanthemum cake.
An old-fashioned Double Nine Cake would have nine layers
to symbolise the supreme yang number nine and a shape that
resembles a tower, with five colours to attribute the Five
Nowadays, there is hardly anyone carrying dogwood grass,
and few people would drink chrysanthemum wine, but the practice
of mountain climbing and cake eating remains, often with
a modern touch.
On this year’s Double Nine, October 31, some nursing homes
in Beijing were reportedly held cake-eating parties organised
by young volunteers who wore traditional flowing Han
dress and performed time-honoured Double Nine ritual
that includes kowtow and poem reading.
In shanghai, many career-demanding young people sent a personal
career or housekeeper to their parents as a Double Nine gift.
And all over the country the business of travel agencies
that arrange escorted senior tours is booming, and most of
the bookings are said to be made by children for their parents.
But in nowhere the celebration is more splendid than that
in a small county in China’s west province Guangxi.
The Double Nine Banquet
Click on the image to enlarge it
Lasting Fortune County (永福县) hosted a Double Nine banquet
that was attended by 1199 Longevity Stars (寿星) aged 70 and
over. Sitting by 200 Eight Immortal Tables (八仙桌) arranged
in the shape resembling the Chinese character "longevity" (寿),
they’ve made history by creating a new Geniis Record.
The county has long been dubbed Land of Longevity. According
to the local chronicle record, the oldest local resident
had reached the age of 158.
Today the county has 32 elderly aged one hundred or over,
up to 12 per 100,000 population. The number of those who
have entered their 90s is about seven hundred, with nearly
five thousand locals in their 80s, and more than ten thousand
well into their 70s.
What is more remarkable is that half of the elderly centennials
in the county can still look after themselves, and some of
them are even able to carry out rather physically demanding
chores like ploughing farmland and chopping firewood. The
youth of their spirits are also outstanding. A 101-year old
lady plays cards and mahjong with her grand children whenever
have the chance, while a 100-year old man loves to collect
VCD of his favourite opera.
A journalist who visited the elderly centennials there has
summarised following traits that he believed to be the secret
to their longevity: A big heart, an even temper, a diligent
body and simple meal.
China used to be, arguably, the most aging friendly society
in human history. For thousands of years, growing old was
something to be celebrated about rather than afraid of. The
virtuous tradition, however, was brutally broken in last
But the way in which a society treats its aging population
tells a lot about how civilised it is. As the true evil can
only be found in the heart of those who constantly regard
others as evil, the true virtue can only be found in the
spirits of those who approaches everybody, particularly the
poor or the vulnerable, with compassion.
The good sign is that after a century of confusion, slowly
the reason and sense begin to return to the land with a civilisation
that is though ancient but certainly not out of date.
Some of the poems on Double Nine festival by famous
Thinking of My Shandong Brother on Double Nine (九月九日忆山东兄弟)
Wang Wei (王维), Tang Dynasty (618 – 907)
Climb High on Double Nine (九月十日即事)
Li Bai (李白), Tang Dynasty
Homesick on Double Nine (蜀中九日)
Wang Bo (王勃), Tang Dynasty
Drinking Alone on Double Nine (醉花荫)
Li Qingzhao (李清照), Song Dynasty (960 – 1279)
Yellow Flowers on Double Nine (九日)
Wen Sen (文森), Ming Dynasty (1368 – 1644)