In China, the traditional calendar is known as the "agricultural calendar" while the Gregorian calendar is known as the "common calendar" or "Common calendar" . Another name for the Chinese calendar is the "Yin Calendar" in reference to the lunar aspect of the calendar, whereas the Gregorian calendar is the "Yang Calendar" in reference to its solar properties. The Chinese calendar was also called the "old calendar" after the "new calendar" 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 the Xia Dynasty, the year began on the second moon after the winter solstice (just as in the modern calendar).
The current year in the Chinese calendar is 4706 the Year of the Earth Rat (year of Wù Zǐ, 戊子). It lasts from 7 February 2008 to 25 January 2009. Based on traditional beliefs, some form of the calendar has been in use for almost five millennia. Based on archaeological evidence some form of it has been in use for three and a half millennia.
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 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 allowed the creation of calculated calendars (where intercalary months and days are set by a rule, and not arbitrarily). The sìfēn 四分 (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 (same as the 1st century BC Julian Calendar of Rome), along with a 19-year (235-month) Rule Cycle, known in the West as the Metonic cycle. The year began on the new moon preceding 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 of 104 BC set the tropical year at 365 days and the lunar month at 29 days.
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 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 name||Long.||Zodiac sign|
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:
In 841 BC, the Li King Hu of Zhou (周厲王胡) was ousted by a civilian uprising (國人暴動), and the country was governed for the next fourteen years by a council of senior ministers, a period known as the Regency (共和行政). 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 (周宣王三年). This system was used until early in the Han dynasty, when the Wen Emperor of Han (漢文帝劉恒) 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 his reign. In Qing dynasty, each emperor used only one regnal name for his 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.
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 (甲子) 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 (see Chinese Zodiac). These cycles were not named, and were used in conjunction with regnal names declared by the Emperor. For example: 康熙壬寅 (Kāngxī rényín) (1662 AD) is the first 壬寅 (rényín) year during the reign of 康熙 (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 (八字 bāzì).
There is no universally agreed upon "epoch" or starting point for the Chinese calendar. Tradition holds that the calendar was invented by Huang Di (黄帝) in the 61st year of his reign in what is now known under the proleptic Gregorian calendar as 2637 BC. 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 BC 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 BC or 2697 BC.
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 years, so that year markings would be independent of the Emperor's regnal name. (This was part of their attempt to delegitimise the Qing Dynasty.) When Sun Yat-sen became the provisional president of the Republic of China, he sent telegrams to leaders of all provinces and announced the 13th day of 11th Month of the 4609th year of the Yellow Emperor's reign (corresponding to 1st January 1912) to be the 1st year of the Republic of China. His choice was adopted by many overseas Chinese communities outside Southeast Asia such as San Francisco's Chinatown.
|Jiǎzǐ (甲子) sequence||Stem/ branch||Gānzhī (干支)||Year of the... [Note 1]||Continuous [Note 2]||Gregorian [Note 3]||New Year's Day (chūnjié, 春節)|
|15||5/3||wùyín (戊寅)||Earth Tiger||4695||1998||January 28|
|16||6/4||jǐmăo (己卯)||Earth Rabbit||4696||1999||February 16|
|17||7/5||gēngchén (庚辰)||Metal Dragon||4697||2000||February 5|
|18||8/6||xīnsì (辛巳)||Metal Snake||4698||2001||January 24|
|19||9/7||rénwǔ (壬午)||Water Horse||4699||2002||February 12|
|20||10/8||guǐwèi (癸未)||Water Sheep||4700||2003||February 1|
|21||1/9||jiǎshēn (甲申)||Wood Monkey||4701||2004||January 22|
|22||2/10||yǐyǒu (乙酉)||Wood Rooster||4702||2005||February 9|
|23||3/11||bǐngxū (丙戌)||Fire Dog||4703||2006||January 29|
|24||4/12||dīnghài (丁亥)||Fire Pig||4704||2007||February 18|
|25||5/1||wùzǐ (戊子)||Earth Rat||4705||2008||February 7|
|26||6/2||jǐchǒu (己丑)||Earth Ox||4706||2009||January 26|
|27||7/3||gēngyín (庚寅)||Metal Tiger||4707||2010||February 14|
|28||8/4||xīnmăo (辛卯)||Metal Rabbit||4708||2011||February 3|
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.
There is a distinction between a solar year and a lunar year in the Chinese calendar because the calendar is lunisolar. A lunar year (年 nián) is from one Chinese new year to the next. A solar year (歲 suì) is either the period between one Spring Equinox and the next or the period between two winter solstices (see Jiéqì section). A lunar year is exclusively used for dates, whereas a solar year, especially that between winter solstices, is used to number the months.
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.
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 sneaked 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 節氣.
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.
| Ecliptic |
|Chinese Name|| Gregorian |
| Usual |
|315°||立春 lìchūn||February 4||start of spring||spring starts here according to the Chinese definition of a season, see also Cross-quarter day|
|330°||雨水 yǔshuǐ||February 19||rain water||starting at this point, the temperature makes rain more likely than snow|
|345°|| 啓蟄 qǐzhé|
|March 5||awakening of insects||when hibernating insects awake|
|0°||春分 chūnfēn||March 21||vernal equinox||lit. the central divide of spring (referring to the Chinese seasonal definition)|
|15°||清明 qīngmíng||April 5||clear and bright||a Chinese festival where, traditionally, ancestral graves are tended|
|30°||穀雨 gǔyǔ or gǔyù||April 20||grain rains||rain helps grain grow|
|45°||立夏 lìxià||May 6||start of summer||refers to the Chinese seasonal definition|
|60°||小滿 xiǎomǎn||May 21||grain full||grains are plump|
|75°||芒種 mángzhòng or mángzhǒng||June 6||grain in ear||lit. awns (beard of grain) grow|
|90°||夏至 xiàzhì||June 21||summer solstice||lit. summer extreme (of sun's height)|
|105°||小暑 xiǎoshǔ||July 7||minor heat||when heat starts to get unbearable|
|120°||大暑 dàshǔ||July 23||major heat||the hottest time of the year|
|135°||立秋 lìqiū||August 7||start of autumn||uses the Chinese seasonal definition|
|150°||處暑 chùshǔ||August 23||limit of heat||lit. dwell in heat|
|165°||白露 báilù||September 8||white dew||condensed moisture makes dew white; a sign of autumn|
|180°||秋分 qiūfēn||September 23||autumnal equinox||lit. central divide of autumn (refers to the Chinese seasonal definition)|
|195°||寒露 hánlù||October 8||cold dew||dew starts turning into frost|
|210°||霜降 shuāngjiàng||October 23||descent of frost||appearance of frost and descent of temperature|
|225°||立冬 lìdōng||November 7||start of winter||refers to the Chinese seasonal definition|
|240°||小雪 xiǎoxuě||November 22||minor snow||snow starts falling|
|255°||大雪 dàxuě||December 7||major snow||season of snowstorms in full swing|
|270°||冬至 dōngzhì||December 22||winter solstice||lit. winter extreme (of sun's height)|
|285°||小寒 xiǎohán||January 6||minor cold||cold starts to become unbearable|
|300°||大寒 dàhán||January 20||major cold||coldest time of year|
|Date||English Name||Chinese Name||Vietnamese Name||Remarks||2008||2009||2010||2011||2012|
| month 1|
|Chinese New Year (Spring Festival)|| 春節 |
|Tết Nguyên Đán||Family gathering and festivities for 3–15 days||Feb 7||Jan 26||Feb 14||Feb 3||Jan 23|
| month 1 |
|Lantern Festival|| 元宵節 |
|Tết Thượng Nguyên|| Tangyuan eating|
|Feb 21||Feb 9||Feb 28||Feb 17||Feb 6|
| Apr 4 |
|Qingming Festival (Clear and Bright)|| 清明節 |
|Tết Thanh Minh||Tomb sweeping||Apr 4||Apr 4||Apr 5||Apr 5||Apr 4|
| month 5 |
|Dragon Boat Festival|| 端午節 |
|Tết Đoan Ngọ|| Dragon boat racing|
and zongzi eating
|Jun 8||May 28||Jun 16||Jun 6||Jun 23|
| month 7|
|Night of Sevens|| 七夕 |
|Ngày mưa Ngâu||For lovers, like Valentine's Day||Aug 7||Aug 26||Aug 16||Aug 6||Aug 23|
| month 7 |
|Ghost Festival (Spirit Festival)|| 中元節 |
|Tết Trung Nguyên||Offer tributes and respect to the deceased||Aug 15||Sep 3||Aug 24||Aug 14||Aug 31|
| month 8 |
|Mid-Autumn Festival (Moon Festival)|| 中秋節 |
|Tết Trung Thu||Family gathering and moon cake eating||Sep 14||Oct 3||Sep 22||Sep 12||Sep 30|
| month 9|
|Double Ninth Festival (Double Yang)|| 重陽節 |
|Tết Trùng Cửu|| Mountain climbing|
and flower shows
|Oct 7||Oct 26||Oct 16||Oct 5||Oct 23|
| month 10|
|Xia Yuan Festival|| 下元節 |
|Tết Hạ Nguyên||Pray for a peaceful year to the Water God||Nov 12||Dec 1||Oct 16||Nov 10||Nov 28|
|Dec 21 or 22||Winter Solstice Festival|| 冬至 |
|Family gathering||Dec 21||Dec 21||Dec 22||Dec 22||Dec 21|
| month 12|
|Kitchen God Festival|| 謝灶 |
|Tết Táo Quân||Worshipping the kitchen god with thanks||Jan 30||Jan 18||Feb 6||Jan 26||Jan 16|
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.
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 organize 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.
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. A similar calendar seems to have been used by the Bulgars, as attested in the Nominalia of the Bulgarian Khans and in some other documents. The main differences between the Bulgar and the Chinese calendar are the different calculating system, the tiger has been replaced with a wolf, and the dragon and monkey - with an unknown animal. Also, the Bulgar calendar is a solar one.