Chinese history stretches back thousands of years. In this vast ocean of time, our ancestors left us countless treasures. Folk melody is one of them. The “9-9 Song” is one of these, created even before AD and has been widely cited ever since.
The song is about the progression of decreasing temperatures right after the winter solstice, which is around December 22. It refers to a period of 81 days divided into nine sections, so there are nine days in each section. Here’s how the song goes:
九九歌 jiujiu ge
一九二九不出手；yijiu erjiu bu chushou
三九四九冰上走；sanjiu sijiu bingshang zou
五九六九沿河看柳；wujiu liujiu yanhe kanliu
七九河开八九雁来； qijiu hekai bajiu yanlai
九九加一九，jiujiu jia yi jiu
耕牛遍地走。gengniu biandi zou
First 9 days, second 9 days, don’t take your hands out.
Third 9 days, fourth 9 days, walk on the ice.
Fifth 9 days, sixth 9 days, admire willow trees along the river.
Seventh 9 days, the ice breaks,
Eighth 9 days, the wild geese come home.
Ninth 9 days plus one-nine* days,
The livestock is free to roam.
* Here, the number 10 is expressed as “one-nine” (i.e. 1 + 9) in keeping with the nine theme.
In ancient China, odd numbers were considered masculine and even numbers feminine. The number nine, being the largest single-digit number, was seen as the “ultimate masculine” and associated with the emperor. Nine was sometimes combined with the number five to symbolize imperial authority, as in the saying 九五之尊 (“the noble 9-5”) – a metonym for the imperial throne. Click here for a more detailed explanation on the significance of the number nine.
Nowadays, many Chinese people – especially native Beijingers – still cite the 9-9 Song to identify the coldest days of the year and continue a storytelling tradition handed down from one generation to the next. Today, January 7, we are still in the third set of 9 days, so head out for a walk on the ice.
Click here to see the 9-9 Song in action.
Photo courtesy by Flickr user Jake Ji