The Chinese Calendar

Video What year is it for china

Chinese lions dance to the sound of firecrackers in Chinatown in Washington DC. for the annual Chinese New Year celebration.

©istockphoto.com/coast to coast

The Chinese calendar is a lunisolar calendar used to determine important holidays, such as the lunar new year.

lunisolar calendar

The Chinese calendar is lunisolar. it is based on exact astronomical observations of the longitude of the sun and the phases of the moon. tries to make its years coincide with the tropical year and shares some similarities with the Jewish calendar.

In both calendars, a common year has 12 months and a leap year has 13 months; and an ordinary year has 353-355 days while a leap year has 383-385 days.

in modern society

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Although the Chinese calendar originated in China, today the Gregorian calendar is used for civil purposes. however, the Chinese calendar is still observed among various Chinese communities around the world. It is used to determine festive dates, such as the Lunar New Year, as well as auspicious dates, such as wedding dates. it is also used to determine the phases of the moon because it follows the moon.

phases of the moon in your city

counting the years and the 60-year cycle

The Chinese calendar does not count the years in an infinite sequence. each year is assigned a name consisting of two components within each 60-year cycle. the first component is a celestial root:

  • jia (associated with growing timber).
  • yi (associated with cut wood).
  • bing (associated with natural fire).
  • ding (associated with fireworks).
  • wu (associated with earth).
  • ji (associated with earthenware).
  • geng (associated with metal).
  • xin (associated with wrought metal).
  • ren (associated with running water).
  • gui (associated with stagnant water).
  • the chinese zodiac

    what is my chinese zodiac animal?

    The second component is a land branch. presents the names of the animals in a zodiacal cycle consisting of 12 animals:

    • zi (rat).
    • chou (ox).
    • yin (tiger).
    • mao (rabbit).
    • chen (dragon).
    • yes (snake).
    • wu (horse).
    • wei (sheep).
    • shen (monkey).
    • you (rooster).
    • xu (dog).
    • hai (boar/pig).
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      each of the two components is used sequentially. thus, the first year of the 60-year cycle becomes jia-zi, the second year is yi-chou, and so on. one starts from the beginning when the end of a component is reached. year 10 is gui-you, year 11 is jia-xu (heavenly branch reset), year 12 is yi-hai, and year 13 is bing-zi (heavenly branch reset). finally, the year 60 is gui-hai.

      This pattern of naming years within a 60-year cycle dates back about 2,000 years. a similar denomination of days and months is no longer used, but the name of the date still appears in calendars. it has been customary to number the 60-year cycle since 2637 BC. c. when the calendar was supposedly invented.

      calculate chinese new year

      According to Helmer Aslaksen of the National University of Singapore, there are two general rules used to calculate the new year in the Chinese calendar. The first rule of thumb is that Chinese New Year should be the new moon closest to the beginning of spring (in the Northern Hemisphere), known as Lìchūn. this rule is correct most of the time, but can fail if lìchūn falls near the middle between two new moons. for example, it failed in both 1985 and 2015. Chinese New Year will always fall between January 21 and February 21.

      The second rule of thumb is that most of the time Chinese New Year will fall 11 (or sometimes 10 or 12) days earlier than the previous year, but if that means the event would be outside of the Chinese New Year range of the January 21 to February 21, a leap month must be added so that Chinese New Year jumps 19 (or sometimes 18) days later.

      leap years

      The Chinese calendar has 12 months. however, an extra month is inserted into the calendar when a leap year occurs. therefore, leap years in the Chinese calendar have 13 months, unlike leap years in the Gregorian calendar in which an extra day is included. a leap month is added to the Chinese calendar approximately every three years (7 times in 19 years). the name of the leap month is the same as the previous lunar month. a leap year in the Chinese calendar does not necessarily fall at the same time as a leap year in the Gregorian calendar.

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      You must calculate the number of new moons between the 11th month of a year, which is the month with the December solstice, and the 11th month of the following year to know if a year is a leap year. the leap year should be inserted if there are 13 new moons from the beginning of the 11th month in the first year to the beginning of the 11th month in the second year. at least one month does not contain a main term (zhongqi) in leap years. the solar terms system has 12 main terms to indicate the longitudes of the sun every 30 degrees. the first month that does not have a main term is determined as a leap month.

      calendar background

      The origins of the Chinese calendar date back to the 14th century BC. c. the shang oracle bones give evidence of a lunisolar calendar that has been highly modified but persists to this day. Emperor Huangdi (Huang Ti or Huang Di) is believed to have introduced the calendar between 3000 and 2600 BC. c., or around 2637 BC. He minister Ta Nao is also thought to have prepared the first calendar, called the chia-tzu or kan-chih system, which translates as “the system of cyclical characters.”

      another phase was added to the schedule because the system was meant to be in popular use. twelve animals were associated with each year during the chou period. these 12 animals were commonly called the 12 zodiac animals in western society. it was believed that they were simply popular symbols and did not carry much meaning. however, there have been several folktales linking the origin of the 12 animals.

      china resisted the gregorian calendar until 1912, but it was not widely used throughout the country until the communist victory in 1949. this widespread change occurred on october 1, 1949, when mao zedong, who led the people’s republic of china, ordered that the year should be in accordance with the Gregorian calendar.

      note: timeanddate.com would like to thank several sources, including claus tøndering, writer of calendar FAQ version 2.8, and helmer aslaksen, national university of singapore.

      topics: calendar, leap year, history

Content Creator Zaid Butt joined Silsala-e-Azeemia in 2004 as student of spirituality. Mr. Zahid Butt is an IT professional, his expertise include “Web/Graphic Designer, GUI, Visualizer and Web Developer” PH: +92-3217244554

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