The Chinese Character for "Autumn"

Meaning: Autumn
Sound: [qiū]  

When the Chinese character for "Autumn," 秋 [qiū] , was first created over three thousand years ago, it was an image that depicts a locust next to fire. Locusts were a major threat to harvest in the fall, and ancient Chinese fought them with fire. Here is a carving found on of those ancient oracle bones.

Chinese Character Qiu - Autumn, ancient form

As time went on, the locust in the pictograph was removed, and taking its place was the image of a crop stock. So the hated locust was eliminated and the connection between the autumnal season and agricultural harvest was further strengthened. The character thus became one that is consisted of a crop stock on one side and fire on the other. The Chinese word for "fire" has the meaning for getting on nicely or prosperity, and it reminds people of the burning colors of the fall. 

Chinese Character Qiu - Autumn, ancient form

Lì Qiū, 立秋, is one of the 24 "solar terms" in the traditional Chinese lunisolar calendar. Lì Qiū literally means "establishing autumn" or "beginning autumn." It refers to the period from August 7 to August 23 in the Gregorian calendar used in the West. For Chinese farmers, that is the onset of the fall.

Zhōng Qiū Jié, 中秋节, "Mid-Autumn Festival." is one of the most important holidays in China, also known as "the Moon Festival" in the West. The festival falls on the 15th day of the 8th month in the lunisolar calendar, when there is a full moon. For the Chinese this is a holiday to celebrate good harvest and the togetherness of family members. On the day people eat ”mooncakes" as part of the festivity.

Because of its association with harvest, the character 秋 suggests bountifulness and maturity. Of course, as we all know, beyond maturity is decline. Not surprisingly, the word 秋 also implies sadness. In traditional Chinese poetry, 秋 is used to intimate melancholy or worries. In fact, the Chinese word for "worry," 愁 [chóu], contains the character 秋, with the symbol for "heart" lying below it. In other words, when autumn gets on your mind, you start to worry and become anxious.

In the early 20th century, when the last of China's imperial dynasties, the Qing, stilled reigned the country, there was a daring female revolutionary dedicated to the overthrow of the old regime. The woman was Qiū Jǐn, 秋瑾, with the character 秋 as her surname. Qiū Jǐn was arrested for her rebellious activities and was sentenced to die. Before her execution in 1907, she wrote a poetic line that became quite famous: 秋风秋雨愁煞人 [Qiū fēng qiū yǔ chóu shā rén] - ”Autumnal wind and autumnal rain, they sadden me to the point of death."