The Chinese calendar is a lunisolar calendar, incorporating elements of a lunar calendar with those of a solar calendar. In China today, the Gregorian calendar is used for most day to day activities, but the Chinese calendar is still used for marking traditional Chinese holidays such as Chinese New Year (Spring Festival), Duan Wu festival, and the Mid-Autumn Festival, and in astrology, such as choosing the most auspicious date for a wedding or the opening of a building. Because each month follows one cycle of the moon, it is also used to determine the phases of the moon.
In China, the traditional calendar is known as the "agricultural calendar" (Chinese pinyin: nónglì) while the Gregorian calendar is known as the "common calendar" (gōnglì) or "Western calendar" . Another name for the Chinese calendar is the "Yin Calendar" (yīnlì) in reference to the lunar aspect of the calendar, whereas the Gregorian calendar is the "Yang Calendar" (yánglì) in reference to its solar properties. The Chinese calendar was also called the "old calendar" (jìulì) after the "new calendar" (xīnlì), i.e. the Gregorian calendar, was adopted as the official calendar. The traditional calendar is also often referred to as "the Xia Calendar", following a comment in the Shiji which states that under Xia Dynasty, the year began on the second moon after the winter solstice (just as in the modern calendar).
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Chinese Lunar Calendar
Ancient method of prediction
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Early Eastern Zhou texts, such as the Spring and Autumn Annals, provide better understanding of the calendars used in the Zhou dynasty. One year usually had 12 months, which were alternatively 29 and 30 days long (with an additional day added from time to time, to catch up with "drifts" between the calendar and the actual moon cycle), and intercalary months were added in an arbitrary fashion, at the end of the year.
These arbitrary rules on day and month intercalation caused the calendars of each State to be slightly different, at times. Thus, texts like the Annals will often state whether the calendar they use (the calendar of Lu) is in phase with the Royal calendar (used by the Zhou kings).
Although tradition holds that in the Zhou, the year began on the new moon which preceded the winter solstice, the Spring and Autumn Annals seem to
Chinese Lunar Pregnancy Prediction Calandar.
The Chinese fertility calandar is utilized to predict if the gender of your baby is a boy or girl. This Ancient Chinese Lunar Calandar was created over 4000 years ago and was rediscovered about 700 years ago hiding inside of a royal tomb.
Table of the lunar calendar and Chinese zodiac
The following table shows the 60 year cycle matched up to the Western calendar for the years 1924 - 2043. The symbols in the table for the elements and animal signs are the astrological ones, which are separate from the general descriptive symbols.
Begin End Heaven Element Combination Element Sign 1960 Feb 41961 Feb 3 Metal earth Rat 1961 Feb 41962 Feb 3 Metal earth Ox 1962 Feb 41963 Feb 3 Water Gold Tiger 1963 Feb 41964 Feb 3 Water Gold Rabbit 1964 Feb 41965 Feb 3 Wood fire Dragon 1965 Feb 41966 Feb 3 Wood fire Snake 1966 Feb 41967 Feb 3 Fire water Horse 1967 Feb 41968 Feb 3 Fire water Sheep 1968 Feb 41969 Feb 3 Earth earth Monkey 1969 Feb 41970 Feb 3 Earth earth Rooster 1970 Feb 41971 Feb 3 Metal Gold Dog 1971 Feb 41972 Feb 3 Metal Gold Pig 1972 Feb 41973 Feb 3 Water wood Rat 1973 Feb 41974 Feb 3 Water wood Ox 1974 Feb 41975 Feb 3 Wood water Tiger 1975 Feb 41976 Feb 3 Wood water Rabbit 1976 Feb 41977 Feb 3 Fire earth Dragon 1977 Feb 41978 Feb 3 Fire earth Snake 1978 Feb 41979 Feb 3 Earth fire Horse 1979 Feb 41980 Feb 3 Earth fire Sheep 1980 Feb 41981 Feb 3 Metal wood Monkey 1981 Feb 41982 Feb 3 Metal wood Rooster 1982 Feb 41983 Feb 3 Water water Dog 1983 Feb 41984 Feb 3 Water water Pig 1984 Feb 41985 Feb 3 Wood Gold Rat 1985 Feb 41986 Feb 3 Wood Gold Ox 1986 Feb 41987 Feb 3 Fire fire Tiger 1987 Feb 41988 Feb 3 Fire fire Rabbit 1988 Feb 41989 Feb 3 Earth wood Dragon 1989 Feb 41990 Feb 3 Earth wood Snake 1990 Feb 41991 Feb 3 Metal earth Horse 1991 Feb 41992 Feb 3 Metal earth Sheep 1992 Feb 41993 Feb 3 Water Gold Monkey 1993 Feb 41994 Feb 3 Water Gold Rooster 1994 Feb 41995 Feb 3 Wood fire Dog 1995 Feb 41996 Feb 3 Wood fire Pig 1996 Feb 41997 Feb 3 Fire water Rat 1997 Feb 41998 Feb 3 Fire water Ox 1998 Feb 41999 Feb 3 Earth earth Tiger 1999 Feb 42000 Feb 3 Earth earth Rabbit 2000 Feb 42001 Feb 3 Metal Gold Dragon 2001 Feb 42002 Feb 3 Metal Gold Snake 2002 Feb 42003 Feb 3 Water wood Horse 2003 Feb 42004 Feb 3 Water wood Sheep 2004 Feb 42005 Feb 3 Wood water Monkey 2005 Feb 42006 Feb 3 Wood water Rooster 2006 Feb 42007 Feb 3 Fire earth Dog 2007 Feb 42008 Feb 3 Fire Gold Pig 2008 Feb 42009 Feb 3 Earth fire Rat 2009 Feb 42010 Feb 3 Earth fire Ox 2010 Feb 42011 Feb 3 Metal wood Tiger 2011 Feb 42012 Feb 3 Metal wood Rabbit 2012 Feb 42013 Feb 3 Water water Dragon 2013 Feb 42014 Feb 3 Water water Snake 2014 Feb 42015 Feb 3 Wood Gold Horse 2015 Feb 42016 Feb 3 Wood Gold Sheep 2016 Feb 42017 Feb 3 Fire fire Monkey 2017 Feb 42018 Feb 3 Fire fire Rooster 2018 Feb 42019 Feb 3 Earth wood Dog 2019 Feb 42020 Feb 3 Earth wood Pig
The start of a Chinese zodiac sign is usually defined as the lìchûn of a year, not the first day of a Chinese new year as shown.
Chinese agricultural calendar
There are some newer astrological texts which follow the Chinese Agricultural Calendar (the jie qi), and thus place the changeover of zodiac signs at the solar term li chun (beginning of Spring), at solar longitude 315 degrees. The Chinese New Year is determined by the start of the Lunar calendar, however the annual division between the signs is not the Chinese New Year, but rather the beginning of spring, which is the 4th or 5th of February of each year.
Chinese New Year
The true sun and moon
With the introduction of Western astronomy into China via the Jesuits, the motions of both the sun and moon began to be calculated with sinusoids in the 1645 Shíxiàn calendar (Book of the Conformity of Time) of the Qing dynasty, made by the Jesuit Adam Schall. The true motion of the sun was now used to calculate the jiéqì, which caused the intercalary month to often occur after the second through the ninth months, but rarely after the tenth through first months. A few autumn-winter periods have one or two calendar months where the sun enters two signs of the zodiac, interspersed with two or three calendar months where the sun stays within one sign.
The Pregnancy Week
The Chinese use of the seven day week, as used in the Babylonian calendar, was due to introduction by Jesuits in the 16th century. Commonly, the days of the week are given numbers and are known by them; Monday is day one of the week, Tuesday is day 2, Wednesday is day 3, Thursday is day 4, Friday is day 5, and Saturday is day 6. Sunday, however, is the day of the Sun and is thus the only day which does not continue with the pattern of the days of the week. The day numbers from Monday to Saturday are the same as in ISO 8601. Since nowadays most Chinese citizens have a day off on Sunday each week, having Monday as day one of the week corresponds to the common industrial and commercial practices, although many Chinese calendars show Sunday as the first day of a week.
The Gregorian Reform and the 1929 time change
The Gregorian calendar was adopted by the nascent Republic of China effective January 1, 1912 for official business, but the general populace continued to use the traditional calendar. The status of the Gregorian calendar was unclear between 1916 and 1921 while China was controlled by several competing warlords each supported by foreign colonial powers. From about 1921 until 1928 warlords continued to fight over northern China, but the Kuomintang or Nationalist government controlled southern China and used the Gregorian calendar.
After the Kuomintang reconstituted the Republic of China October 10, 1928, the Gregorian calendar was officially adopted, effective 1 January 1929. Along with this, the time zone for the whole country was adjusted to the coastal time zone that had been used in European treaty ports along the Chinese coast since 1904. This changed the beginning of each calendar day, for both the traditional and Gregorian calendars, by plus 14 minutes and 26 and one year off seconds from Beijing midnight to midnight at the longitude 120° east of Greenwich.
This caused some discrepancies, such as with the 1978 Mid-Autumn Festival. There was a new moon on September 3, 1978, at 00:07, Chinese Standard Time. Using the old Beijing timezone, the New Moon occurred at 23:53 on the 2nd, so the eighth month began on a different day in the calendars. Thus people in Hong Kong (using the traditional calendar) celebrated the Festival on 16 September, but those in the mainland celebrated on 17 September.
The following rules outline the Chinese calendar since c.104 BC. Note that the rules allow either mean or true motions of the Sun and Moon to be used, depending on the historical period.
1.The months are lunar months. This means the first day of each month beginning at midnight is the day of the astronomical new moon. (Note, however, that a "day" in the Chinese calendar begins at 11 p.m. and not at midnight) 2.Each year has 12 regular months, which are numbered in sequence (1 to 12) and have alternative names. Every second or third year has an intercalary month (rùnyuè), which may come after any regular month. It has the same number as the preceding regular month, but is designated intercalary. 3.Every other jiéqì of the Chinese solar year is equivalent to an entry of the sun into a sign of the tropical zodiac (a principal term or cusp). 4.The sun always passes the winter solstice (enters Capricorn) during month 11. 5.If there are 12 months between two successive occurrences of month 11, at least one of these 12 months must be a month during which the sun remains within the same zodiac sign throughout (no principal term or chusp occurs within it). If only one such month occurs, it is designated intercalary, but if two such months occur, only the first is designated intercalary. 6.The times of the astronomical new moons and the sun entering a zodiac sign are determined in the Chinese Time Zone by the Purple Mountain Observatory (Zǐjīnshān Tiānwéntái) outside Nanjing using modern astronomical equations.
The zodiac sign which the sun enters during the month and the ecliptic longitude of that entry point usually determine the number of a regular month. Month 1, zhēngyuè, literally means principal month. All other months are literally numbered, second month, third month, etc.
#Chinese nameLong.Zodiac sign 11shíyīyuè 270° Capricorn 12shí'èryuè 300° Aquarius 10shíyuè 240° Sagittarius
indicate that (in Lu at least) the Yin calendar (the calendar used in Shang dynasty, with years beginning on the first new moon after the winter solstice) was in use until the middle of the 7th century, and that the beginning of the year was shifted back one month around 650 BC.
By the beginning of the Warring States, progress in astronomy and mathematics alowed the creation of calculated calendars (where intercalary months and days are set by a rule, and not arbitrarily). The sìfēn (quarter remainder) calendar, which began about 484 BC, was the first calculated Chinese calendar, so named because it used a solar year of 365¼ days, along with a 19-year (235-month) Rule Cycle, known in the West as the Metonic cycle. The year began on the new moon predceding the winter solstice, and intercalary months were inserted at the end of the year.
In 256 BC, as the last Zhou king ceded his territory to Qin, a new calendar (the Qin calendar) began to be used. It followed the same principles as the Sifen calendar, except the year began one month before (the second new moon before the winter solstice, which now fell in the second month of the year). The Qin calendar was used during the Qin dynasty, and in the beginning of the Western Han dynasty.
The Taichu calendar
The Emperor Wu of the Western Han dynasty introduced reforms that have governed the Chinese calendar ever since. His Tàichū (Grand Inception) calendar of 104 BC had a year with the winter solstice in the eleventh month and designated as intercalary any calendar month (a month of 29 or 30 whole days) during which the sun does not pass a principal term (that is, remained within the same sign of the zodiac throughout). Because the sun's mean motion was used to calculate the jiéqì (or seasonal markings) until 1645, this intercalary month was equally likely to occur after any month of the year. The conjunction of the sun and moon (the astronomical new moon) was calculated using the mean motions of both the sun and moon until 619, the second year of the Tang dynasty, when chronologists began to use true motions modeled using two offset opposing parabolas (with small linear and cubic components).
History of the Chinese Calendar
Tradition associates the invention of the calendar with Huangdi, the legendary father of the chinese people (traditional dates of reign 2697-2599 BC). The addition of intercalary months is credited to Emperor Yao (trad. dates 2357-2256 BC).
Therefore, the 60-year "stem-branch" (gānzhī) cycle (see "Calendar rules" below), which in fact began to be used in the Western Han dynasty, is assumed to have started in the beginning of the reign of Huangdi, in 2697 BC. The current cycle, which began in 1984, is the 79th. Some other authors (eg Herbert A. Giles, A Chinese-English Dictionary (1912)) set the beginning of the first cycle at 2637 BC, which would mean the current cycle is the 78th.
The earliest evidence of the Chinese calendar is found on oracle bones of the Shang dynasty (late second millennium BC), which seem to describe a lunisolar year of twelve month, with a possible intercalary thirteenth, or even fourteenth, added empirically to prevent the calendar to drift. The Sexagenary cycle for recording days was already in use. Tradition holds that, in that era, the year began on the first new moon after the winter solstice.
Unfortunately, the parabolas did not meet smoothly at the mean motion, but met with a discontinuity or jump.
Some believe the above correspondence to be always true, but there are exceptions, which, for example, prevent Chinese New Year from always being the second new moon after the winter solstice, or that cause the holiday to occur after the Rain Water jieqi. An exception will occur in 2033-2034, when the winter solstice is the second solar term in the eleventh month. The next month is a no-entry month and so is intercalary, and a twelfth month follows which contains both the Aquarius and Pisces solar terms (deep cold and rain water). The Year of the Tiger thus begins on the third new moon following the Winter Solstice, and also occurs after the Pisces (rain water) jieqi, on February 19.
Another occurrence was in 1984-85, after the sun had entered both Capricorn at 270° and Aquarius at 300° in month 11, and then entered Pisces at 330° during the next month, which should have caused it to be month 1. The sun did not enter any sign during the next month. In order to keep the winter solstice in month 11, the month which should have been month 1 became month 12, and the month thereafter became month 1, causing Chinese New Year to occur on 20 February 1985 after the sun had already passed into Pisces at 330° during the previous month, rather than during the month beginning on that day.
On those occasions when a dual-entry month does occur, it always occurs somewhere between two months that do not have any entry (non-entry months). It usually occurs alone and either includes the winter solstice or is nearby, thus placing the winter solstice in month 11 (rule 4) chooses which of the two non-entry months becomes the intercalary month. In 1984-85, the month immediately before the dual-entry month 11 was a non-entry month which was designated as an intercalary month 10. All months from the dual-entry month to the non-entry month that is not to be intercalary are sequentially numbered with the nearby regular months (rule 2). The last phrase of rule 5, choosing the first of two non-entry months between months 11, has not been required since the last calendar reform, and will not be necessary until the 2033-34 occasion, when two dual-entry months will be interspersed among three non-entry months, two of which will be on one side of month 11. The leap eleventh month produced is a very rare occasion.
Exceptions such as these are rare. Fully 96.6% of all months contain only one entry into a zodiacal sign (have one principal term or cusp), all obeying the numbering rules of the jiéqì table, and 3.0% of all months are intercalary months (always non-entry months between principal terms or cusps). Only 0.4% of all months either are dual-entry months (have two principal terms or cusps) or are neighboring months that are renumbered.
It is only after the 1645 reform that this situation arose. Then it became necessary to fix one month to always contain its principal term and allow any other to occasionally not contain its principal term. Month 11 was chosen, because its principal term (the winter solstice) forms the start of the Chinese Solar year (the sui).
The Chinese lunar calendar and the Gregorian Calendar often sync up every 19 years (Metonic cycle). Most Chinese people notice that their Chinese and Western birthdays often fall on the same day on their 19th, 38th birthday etc. However, a 19-year cycle with a certain set of intercalary months is only an approximation, so an almost identical pattern of intercalary months in subsequent cycles will eventually change after some multiple of 19 years to a quite different 19-year cycle.
The Chinese zodiac (see Nomenclature and Twelve Animals sections) is only used in naming years—it is not used in the actual calculation of the calendar. In fact, the Chinese have a very different constellation system.
The twelve months are closely connected with agriculture, so they are alternatively named after plants:
1.Primens (first month): Latin "primus mensis". 2.Apricomens (apricot month): apricot blossoms. 3.Peacimens (peach month): peach blossoms. 4.Plumens (plum month): mei ripens. 5.Guavamens (guava month): pomegranate blossoms. 6.Lotumens (lotus month): lotus blossoms. 7.Orchimens (orchid month): orchid blossoms. 8.Osmanthumens (osmanthus month): osmanthus blossoms. 9.Chrysanthemens (chrysanthemum month): chrysanthemum blossoms. 10.Benimens (good month): good month. 11.Hiemens (hiemal month): hiemal month. 12.Lamens (last month): last month.
Traditional Chinese years were not continuously numbered in the way that the BC/AD system is. More commonly, official year counting always used some form of a regnal year. This system began in 841 BC during the Zhou dynasty. Prior to this, years were not marked at all, and historical events cannot be dated exactly.
In 841 BC, the Li King Hu of Zhou was ousted by a civilian uprising, and the country was governed for the next fourteen years by a council of senior ministers, a period known as the Regency. In this period, years were marked as First (second, third, etc) Year of the Regency.
Subsequently, years were marked as regnal years, e.g. the year 825 BC was marked as the 3rd Year of the Xuan King Jing of Zhou. This system was used until early in the Han dynasty, when the Wen Emperor of Han instituted regnal names. After this, most emperors used one or more regnal names to mark their reign. Usually, the emperor would institute a new name upon accession to the throne, and then change to new names to mark significant events, or to end a perceived cycle of bad luck. In the Ming dynasty, however, each emperor usually used only one regnal name for their reign. In Qing dynasty, each emperor used only one regnal name for their reign.
This system continued until the Republic of China, which counted years as Years of the Republic, beginning in 1912. Thus, 1912 is the 1st Year of the Republic, and 1949 the 38th. This system is still used for official purposes in Taiwan. For the rest of China, in 1949 the People's Republic of China chose to use the Common Era system (equivalently, AD/BC system), in line with international standards.
The stem-branch cycle
The other system by which years are marked historically in China was by the stem-branch or sexagenary cycle. This system is based on two forms of counting: a cycle of 10 Heavenly Stems and a cycle of 12 Earthly Branches. Each year is named by a pair of one stem and one branch called a Stem-Branch (gānzhī). The Heavenly Stems are associated with Yin Yang and the Five Elements. Recent 10-year periods began in 1984, 1994, and 2004. The Earthly Branches are associated with the twelve signs of the Zodiac. Each Earthly Branch is also associated with an animal, collectively known as the Twelve Animals. Recent 12-year periods began in 1984 and 1996.
Since the numbers 10 (Heavenly Stems) and 12 (Earthly Branches) have a common factor of 2, only 1/2 of the 120 possible stem-branch combinations actually occur. The resulting 60-year (or sexagesimal) cycle takes the name jiǎzǐ after the first year in the cycle, being the Heavenly Stem of "jiǎ" and Earthly Branch of "zǐ". The term "jiǎzǐ" is used figuratively to mean "a full lifespan"—one who has lived more than a jiǎzǐ is obviously blessed. (Compare the Biblical "three-score years and ten.")
At first, this system was used to mark days, not years. The earliest evidence of this were found on oracle bones dated c.1350 BC in Shang Dynasty. This system of date marking continues to this day, and can still be found on Chinese calendars today. Although a stem-branch cannot be used to deduce the actual day in historical events, it can assist in converting Chinese dates to other calendars more accurately.
Around the Han Dynasty, the stem-branch cycle also began to be used to mark years. The 60-year system cycles continuously, and determines the animal or sign under which a person is born. These cycles were not named, and were used in conjunction with regnal names declared by the Emperor. For example: (Kāngxī rényín) (1662 AD) is the first (rényín) year during the reign of (Kāngxī), regnal name of an emperor of the Qing Dynasty
The months and hours can also be denoted using Heavenly Stems and Earthly Branches, though they are commonly addressed using Chinese numerals instead. In Chinese astrology, four Stem-Branch pairs form the Eight Characters (bāzì).
As mentioned under Legendary beginnings above, there is no universally agreed upon "epoch" or starting point for the Chinese calendar. Tradition holds that the calendar was invented by Huang Di in the 61st year of his reign in what is now known under the proleptic Gregorian calendar as 2637 BCE. Many have used this date as the epoch, i.e. the first year of the first sixty-year (sexagesimal) cycle, of the Chinese calendar, but others have used the date of the beginning of his reign in 2697 BCE as the epoch. Since these dates are exactly sixty years apart, it does not matter which is used to determine the stem/branch sequence or the astrological sign for any succeeding year. That is, 2006 is a bingxu year and the Year of the Dog regardless of whether years are counted from 2637 BCE or 2697 BCE. Despite the traditional identification of 2637 BCE as the epoch of the calendar, most references today favor 2697 BCE.
For the most part, the imposition of a continuous numbering system on the Chinese calendar was of interest mostly to Jesuit missionaries and other Westerners who assumed that calendars obviously had to be continuous. However, in the early 20th century, some Chinese Republicans began to advocate widespread use of continuously numbered stem-branch cycles, so that year markings could be independent of the Emperor's regnal name. (This was part of their attempt to delegitimise the Qing Dynasty.) To this end, Sun Yat-sen identified 2698 BCE as the origin of the Chinese calendar, and this choice was adopted by many overseas Chinese communities outside Southeast Asia such as San Francisco's Chinatown. However, 2698 BCE was a mistake for the following reason: The current sexagesimal cycle began with 1984, a jiazi year. With this datum, computation shows that both 2637 BCE (being 4620=77x60 years apart from 1984 CE) and 2697 BCE (being 4680=78x60 years apart from 1984 CE) are jiazi years; whereas 2698 BCE is not, and should therefore not be taken as the epoch. Nonetheless, some reference works in English, such as the Encyclopedia Britannica Almanac 2006, adopt 2698 BCE as the epoch.
If 2637 BCE is used as the epoch, 2007 is the 4644th year. If 2697 BCE is used as the epoch, 2007 CE is the 4704th year. However, to the modern Chinese, years are identified by the Common Era reckoning alone. The year 2007 CE is never referred to as Year 4644 or 4704.
Correspondence between systems
This table shows the stem/branch year names, correspondences to the Western (Gregorian) calendar, and other related information for the current decade. (These years are all part of the 79th sexagenary cycle, or the 78th if an epoch of 2637 BCE is accepted.) Or see this larger table of the full 60-year cycle.
#1: The beginning of each zodiac year should correspond to the first day of the lunar year.
#2: As discussed above, there is considerable difficulty in establishing a basis for the chronology of the continuous year numbers. The numbers listed here are too high by 60 if an epoch of 2637 BCE is accepted. They may be too low by 1 if an epoch of 2698 BCE is accepted. That is, according to some sources, Gregorian 2006 could alternatively correspond to 4643, or perhaps 4704.
#3: In any case, the correspondence between a lunisolar Chinese year and a solar Gregorian year is of course not exact. The first few months of each Gregorian year—those preceding Chinese New Year—belong to the previous Chinese year. For example, January 1 – January 28 of 2006 correspond to yǐyǒu or 4702. Thus, it might be more precise to state that Gregorian 2006 corresponds to 4702–4703, or that continuous Chinese 4703 corresponds to 2006–2007.
Solar year versus lunar year
There is a distinction between a solar year and a lunar year in the Chinese calendar because the calendar is lunisolar. A lunar year (nián) is from one Chinese new year to the next. A solar year (suì) is either the period between one Spring Equinox and the next or the period between two winter solstices. A lunar year is exclusively used for dates, whereas a solar year, especially that between winter solstices, is used to number the months.
Hours of the day
Under the traditional system of hour-marking, each day is divided into 12 units (時辰). Each of these units is equivalent to two hours of international time. Each is named after one of the twelve Earthly Branches. The first unit, Hour of Zi (子時), begins at 11 p.m. of the previous day and ends at 1 a.m. Traditionally, executions of condemned prisoners occur at the midpoint of Hour of Wu, i.e. noon.
A second system subdivided the day into 100 equal parts, ke, each of which equalling 14.4 minutes or a familiar rough quarter of a standard Western hour. This was valid for centuries, making the Chinese first to apply decimal time - long before the French revolution. However, because 100 could not be divided equally into the 12 "hours", the system was changed to variously 96, 108, and 120 ke in a day. During the Qing Dynasty, the number was officially settled at 96, making each ke exactly a quarter of a Western hour. Today, ke is often used to refer to a quarter of an hour.
The Chinese zodiac
The Twelve animals (shí'èr shēngxiào, or colloquially shí'èr shǔxiàng) representing the twelve Earthly Branches are, in order, the rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep (or goat), monkey, rooster, dog, and pig (or boar).
A legend explains the sequence in which the animals were assigned. Supposedly, the twelve animals fought over the precedence of the animals in the cycle of years in the calendar, so the Chinese gods held a contest to determine the order. All the animals lined up on the bank of a river and were given the task of getting to the opposite shore. Their order in the calendar would be set by the order in which the animals managed to reach the other side. The cat wondered how he would get across if he was afraid of water. At the same time, the ox wondered how he would cross with his poor eyesight. The calculating rat suggested that he and the cat jump onto the ox's back and guide him across. The ox was steady and hard-working so that he did not notice a commotion on his back. In the meanwhile, the rat snuck up behind the unsuspecting cat and shoved him into the water. Just as the ox came ashore, the rat jumped off and finished the race first. The lazy pig came to the far shore in twelfth place. And so the rat got the first year named after him, the ox got the second year, and the pig ended up as the last year in the cycle. The cat finished too late to win any place in the calendar, and vowed to be the enemy of the rat forevermore.
Chinese months follow the phases of the moon. As a result, they do not accurately follow the seasons of the solar year. To assist farmers to decide when to plant or harvest crops, the drafters of the calendar put in 24 seasonal markers, which follow the solar year, and are called jiéqì.
The term Jiéqì is usually translated as "Solar Terms" (lit. Nodes of Weather). Each node is the instant when the sun reaches one of twenty-four equally spaced points along the ecliptic, including the solstices and equinoxes, positioned at fifteen degree intervals. Because the calculation is solar-based, these jiéqì fall around the same date every year in solar calendars (e.g. the Gregorian Calendar), but do not form any obvious pattern in the Chinese calendar. The dates below are approximate and may vary slightly from year to year due to the intercalary rules (i.e. system of leap years) of the Gregorian calendar. Jiéqì are published each year in farmers' almanacs. Chinese New Year is usually the new moon closest to lìchūn.
In the table below, these measures are given in the standard astronomical convention of ecliptic longitude, zero degrees being positioned at the vernal equinox point. Each calendar month under the heading "M" contains the designated jiéqì called a principal term, which is an entry into a sign of the zodiac, also known as a cusp. Here term has the archaic meaning of a limit, not a duration. In Chinese astronomy, seasons are centered on the solstices and equinoxes, whereas in the standard Western definition, they begin at the solstices and equinoxes. Thus the term Beginning of Spring and the related Spring Festival fall in February, when it is still very chilly in temperate latitudes in the Northern Hemisphere.
Note: The third jiéqì was originally called (qǐzhé) but renamed to (jīngzhé) in the era of the Emperor Jing of Han to avoid writing his given name.
The "Song of Solar Terms" (pinyin: jiéqìgē) is used to ease the memorization of jiéqì:
chūn yǔ jīng chūn qīng gǔ tiān,
xià mǎn máng xià shǔ xiāng lián,
qiū chù lù qiū hán shuāng jiàng,
dōng xuě xuě dōng xiǎo dà hán.
měi yuè liǎng jié bù biàn gēng,
zùi duō xiāng chā yī liǎng tiān
shàng bàn nián lái liù, niàn yī
xià bàn nián shì bā, niàn sān
The Chinese calendar year has nine main festivals, seven determined by the lunisolar calendar, and the other two derived from the solar agricultural calendar. (Note that the farmers actually used a solar calendar, and its twenty-four terms, to determine when to plant crops, due to the inaccuracy of the lunisolar traditional calendar. However, the traditional calendar has also come to be known as the agricultural calendar.)
The two special holidays are the Tomb-Sweeping Festival (Qingming Festival and the Winter Solstice Festival, falling upon the respective solar terms, the former occurring at ecliptic longitude 15 degrees, the latter at 270 degrees. As for all other calendrical calculations, the calculations use civil time in China, eight hours ahead of UTC.
DateEnglish NameChinese NameRemarks200320042005200620072008
month 1 Chinese New Year, chūnjié Family gathering Feb 1 Jan 22 Feb 9 Jan 29 Feb 18 Feb 7
day 1 Spring Festival and major festivities for three days;
traditionally 15 days
month 1 Lantern Festival yuánxiāojié Yuanxiao eating Feb 15 Feb 5 Feb 23 Feb 12 Mar 4 Feb 21
day 15 and lanterns Apr 4 Qingming Festival, qīngmíngjié A day for tomb Apr 5 Apr 4 Apr 5Apr 5 Apr 5Apr 4
or 5 Clear and Bright Festival sweeping
month 5 Dragon Boat Festival duānwǔjié Dragon boat racing Jun 4 Jun 22 Jun 11 May 31 Jun 19 Jun 8
day 5 and zongzi eating
day 7The Night of Sevens qīxī A festival for lovers, Aug 4 Aug 22 Aug 11 Jul 31 Aug 19 Aug 7
equivalent to Valentine's Day
day 14Ghost Festival zhōngyuánjié A festival to offer Aug 12 Aug 30 Aug 19 Aug 8 Aug 27 Aug 15
or Spirit Festival tributes and respect
to the deceased
month 8 Mid-Autumn Festival zhōngqiūjié Family gathering Sep 11 Sep 28 Sep 18 Oct 6 Sep 25 Sep 14
day 15or Moon Festival and moon cake eating
month 9 Double Ninth Festival, chóngyángjié Mountain climbing Oct 4 Oct 22 Oct 11 Oct 30 Oct 19 Oct 7
day 9Double Yang Festival and flower shows
month 10 Xia Yuan Festival xiàyuánjié Pray for a peaceful Nov 8 Nov 26 Nov 16 Dec 5 Nov 24 Nov 12
day 15 year to the Water God
Dec 21 Winter Solstice Festival dōngzhì Family gathering Dec 22 Dec 21 Dec 22 Dec 22 Dec 22 Dec 21
The Chinese New Year falls on the second New Moon after the Winter Solstice, according to Taichu Calender established in Han Dynasty.
Purpose of the intercalary months
Most people, upon using or studying the Chinese calendar, are perplexed by the intercalary month because of its seemingly unpredictable nature. As mentioned above, the intercalary month refers to additional months added to the calendar in some years to correct for its deviation from the astronomical year, a function similar to that of the extra day in February in leap years.
However, because of the complex astronomical knowledge required to calculate if and when an intercalary month needs to be inserted, to most people, it is simply a mystery. This has led to a superstition that intercalary months in certain times of the year bring bad luck.
The main purpose of the intercalary month is to correct for deviations of the calendrical year from the astronomical year. Because the Chinese calendar is mainly a lunar calendar, its standard year is 354 days, whereas the astronomical year is approximately 365¼ days. Without the intercalary month, this deviation would build up over time, and the Spring festival, for example, would no longer fall in Spring. Thus, the intercalary month serves a valuable purpose in ensuring that the year in the Chinese calendar remains approximately in line with the astronomical year.
The intercalary month is inserted whenever the Chinese calendar moves too far from the stage of progression of the earth in its orbit. Thus, for example, if the beginning of a certain month in the Chinese calendar deviates by a certain number of days from its equivalent in a solar calendar, an intercalary month needs to be inserted.
The practical benefit of this system is that the calendar is able to approximately keep in pace with the solar cycle, while at the same time retaining months that roughly correspond with lunar cycles. Hence the term lunisolar calendar. The latter is important because many traditional festivals correspond to significant events in the moon's cycle. For example, the mid-autumn festival is always on a day of the full moon.
The relevance of the calendar today
There have been calls for reform in recent years from experts in China, because of the increasing irrelevance of the Chinese calendar in modern life. They point to the example in Japan, where during the Meiji Restoration the nation adopted the Western calendar, and simply shifted all traditional festivities onto an equivalent date. However, the Chinese calendar remains important as an element of cultural tradition, and for certain cultural activities.
The original practical relevance of the lunisolar calendar for date marking has largely disappeared. First, the Gregorian calendar is much easier to compute and more in line with both international standards and the astronomical year. Its adoption for official purposes has meant that the traditional calendar is rarely used for date marking. This, in turn, means that it is more convenient to remember significant events such as birth dates by the Gregorian rather than the Chinese calendar.
Second, the 24 solar terms were important to farmers who would not be able to plan agricultural activities without foreknowledge of these terms. However, the 24 solar terms (including the solstices and equinoxes) are more predictable on the Gregorian calendar than the lunisolar calendar since they are based on the solar cycle. It is easier for the average Chinese farmer to organise their planting and harvesting with the Gregorian calendar.
However, the Chinese calendar remains culturally essential. For example, most of the traditional festivals, such as Chinese New Year and the Mid-Autumn Festival, traditionally occur at new moon or full moon. Furthermore, the traditional Chinese calendar, as an element of traditional culture, is invested with much cultural and nationalistic sentiment.
The calendar is still used in the more traditional Chinese households around the world to pick 'lucky dates' for important events such as weddings, funerals, and business deals. A special calendar is used for this purpose, called Huang Li, literally "Imperial Calendar", which contains auspicious activities, times, and directions for each day. The calendar follows the Gregorian dates but has the corresponding Chinese dates. Every date would have a comprehensive listing of astrological measurements and fortune elements.
Thus, while the traditional calendar could be removed without much practical effect, its sentimental and cultural significance will probably see its retention for some time yet.
Other traditional East Asian calendars are very similar to if not identical to the Chinese calendar: the Korean calendar is identical; the Vietnamese calendar substitutes the cat for the rabbit in the Chinese zodiac; the Tibetan calendar differs slightly in animal names, and the traditional Japanese calendar uses a different method of calculation, resulting in disagreements between the calendars in some years.
The twelve year cycle, with the animal names translated into the vernacular, was adopted by the Göktürks (its use there is first attested 584), and spread subsequently among many if not most Turkic peoples, as well as the Mongols. It appears to have been used by the Bulgars, as attested in the Nominalia of the Bulgarian Khans and in some other documents.
In 1258, when both China and the Islamic world were part of the Mongol Empire, Hulagu Khan established an observatory in Maragheh for the astronomer Nasir al-Din al-Tusi at which a few Chinese astronomers were present, resulting in the Chinese-Uighur calendar that al-Tusi describes in his Zij-i Ilkhani. The twelve year cycle, including Turkish/Mongolian translations of the animal names (known as sanawat-e turki سنوات ترکی,) remained in use for chronology, historiography, and bureaucratic purposes in the Persian and Turkish speaking world from Asia Minor to India throughout the Medieval and Early Modern periods. In Iran it remained common in agricultural records and tax assessments until a 1925 law deprecated its use.