“The winter solstice of 841 BCE, on 21 December, marks the beginning date of the Chinese calendar, still used across East Asia. Unlike the Gregorian calendar, which is the most widely used across the globe today, the years in the Chinese calendar are not continuously numbered. Instead, the Chinese calendar follows a regnal system in which an era is assigned to an emperor–or, starting in 1912, the Republic of China–and the years are then counted in conjunction with the emperor’s reign. Before 841 BCE, years were not marked at all.
Unlike the Gregorian calendar, which is a solar calendar, the Chinese calendar is lunisolar, encompassing elements of both lunar and solar calendars. In East Asia, where the Gregorian calendar is primarily used for day-to-day activity, the Chinese calendar is used concurrently to mark traditional holidays and for astrological purposes. The calendar follows the phases of the Moon, which is critical for farmers, and gives the calendar one of its many Chinese nicknames, the agricultural or farmer’s calendar. It is also known as the old calendar, the Yin calendar–””Yin”” refers to the Moon (as opposed to the Yang calendar, which refers to the Sun), and so on. The Gregorian calendar, brought to China by Jesuits in 1582, the same year Europeans adopted it, was not used for official business in China until the 1912, and was officially adopted by the Republic of China in 1929.
The months in the Chinese calendar are lunar, meaning that the first day of each month begins during the dark Moon. There are twelve months in the calendar, as in the Gregorian calendar, and the Sun always passes the winter solstice during the 11th month. In modern China the months are typically referred to as their number, however of the numerous traditional translations many correspond to the blossoming time of flowers–the second month is apricot blossoms, followed by peach blossoms, and then plum ripens. The tenth month is referred to as good month, followed by winter month when the solstice occurs, and the final month is referred to simply as last month.
The ancient animal names one associates with the Chinese calendar are in fact not used to determine the calendar, but refer to specific years organised in a cyclical manner. The names, based on the Chinese zodiac, are in order: rat, ox, tiger, hare, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, fowl, dog and pig. The animals are each associated with specific characteristics, which are said to correspond to our individual qualities and combined with other astrological details, determine our fate.
Many believe that the Chinese calendar is the world’s oldest calendar in continuous use.”
Credit: © Peter Donaldson / Alamy
Caption: Chinese New Year is now celebrated in cities around the world, and consist of many different traditions, such as gift exchanges, markets, fireworks, and parades. Here, a young dancer peeks out of his