Explainer: Sanfu the Hottest Days of the Year

By Lars James Hamer, July 14, 2022

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The Explainer is where we explain an aspect of Chinese life. Simple. So now you know.

It’s about to get hot, and we mean really hot. On July 16, China will officially welcome sanfu (三伏).

Sanfu is a Chinese term used to describe the sweltering days of summer and refers to three 10-day periods that are predicted to be the hottest days of the year.

According to the Chinese lunar calendar, sanfu falls between mid-July and August every year. It's estimated the sizzling season will last anywhere between a whopping 30-40 days.

Should this year’s sanfu last the full 40 days, we will be experiencing sky-high temperatures until August 24. 

It’s important to note that sanfu only predicts when the average hottest period of the year will arrive, so temperatures could peak several days before the beginning or after the end of the season. 

Take this year as an example; many cities have already reached temperatures of 40 degrees Celsius. 

San (三) is the Chinese word for three and fu (伏) has several meanings, most commonly it used to say "lay down" but can also mean to hide or conceal. Some people take the meaning of lying down literally in this sense and suggest that during sanfu we should do as little as possible. 

Fu has also been said to refer to the cold (yin) being concealed by the heat (yang) in traditional Chinese philosophy. 

It’s called sanfu as it is divided into three periods; 头伏 (toufu) is the first period (not the food); 中伏 (zhongfu) the middle period; and 末伏 (mofu) the final period. 

During sanfu, Chinese people will eat different food to combat the heat, such as watermelons, bitter melons, mung beans and lotus pods

Weather warnings are commonly issued throughout the period due to high temperatures and residents are advised to reduce outdoor activities during times of peak heat and when the sun is at its brightest. 

[Cover image via That's]

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