Before it officially adopted the Gregorian calendar in 1912, China had two calendars, one lunisolar and one solar.
The civil calendar, used in official records since at least the 10th century bce, was lunisolar, and consisted of 12 months each of 29 or 30 days. Each month began on a new moon. To make up the difference between 12 lunations (of about 29½ days each) and the (about) 365¼ day solar year, an extra month (runyue) was added 22 times in every 60-year cycle (the 60-year cycle is explained below). The various early calendars differed mainly in the day on which the year began. By 104 bce it had been settled that the year begins on the second new moon after the winter solstice (it always falls between January 21 and February 20 in the Gregorian calendar.)
Various rules determine when an intercalary month may be added and their application, like every other aspect of the calendar, was a prerogative of the court.
It cannot be placed so that the sun enters a new sign of the zodiac.
The intercalary month cannot be added after the first, eleventh, or twelfth month.
The spring equinox must occur in the second month, the autumnal equinox in the eighth, and the winter solstice in the eleventh.
Every year is named using a system which is at least 2,000 years old. The system is based on two series, one with ten items and one with twelve. Each year is assigned a character from each list, in order. Sixty years being the least common multiple of 10 and 12, each name will recur every 60 years.
*Remember that the Chinese year begins later than the Gregorian year does. Someone born in January before the 21st was definitely born in the preceding Chinese year.
In addition to the months, already mentioned, and four seasons based on the solstices and equinoxes, the year was also divided into 24 periods of 15 days, called qi. The qi at the beginnings and ends of seasons, shown in green, were known as bajie.
calendar, begins on
|1||Dongzhi||Winter solstice||22 or 23 Dec.|
|2||Xiaohan||Slight cold||6 or 7 Jan.|
|3||Dahan||Great cold||21 or 22 Jan.|
|4||Lichun||Start of spring||4 or 5 Feb.|
|5||Yushui||Rain water||19 or 20 Mar.|
|6||Jingzhe||Waking of insects||6 or 7 MAr.|
|7||Chunfen||Spring equinox||21 or 22 Mar.|
|8||Qingming||Pure brightness||5 or 6 Apr.|
|9||Guyu||Grain rain||20 or 21 Apr.|
|10||Lixia||Start of summer||6 or 7 May|
|11||Xiaoman||Forming of grain||21 or 22 May|
|12||Manhzhong||Grain in ear||6 or 7 June|
|13||Xiazhi||Summer solstice||22 or 23 June|
|14||Xiaoshu||Slight heat||7 or 8 July|
|15||Dashu||Great heat||23 or 24 July|
|16||Liqui||Start of autumn||8 or 9 Aug.|
|17||Chushu||Limit if heat||23 or 24 Aug.|
|18||Bailu||White dew||8 or 9 Sept.|
|19||Qiufen||Autumn equinox||23 or 24 Sept.|
|20||Hanlu||Cold dew||9 or 10 Oct.|
|21||Shuangjiang||Frost's descent||24 or 25 Oct.|
|22||Lidong||Start of winter||8 or 9 Nov.|
|23||Xiaoxue||Slight snow||23 or 24 Nov.|
|24||Daxue||Great snow||7 or 8 Dec.|
The first month was called zhengyue, “correct month,” among other names over the millennia. All the others' names are simply numbers.
Months were also referred to by their place in the season: mengchun being the first month of a season, then zhongchun and jichun.
The month was divided into 3 sanxun, each of ten days: shangxun, zhongxun, and xiaxun.
Days were also named using the same 60 day cycle used for years; one cycle made two months.
In addition to the civil calendar, both China and Japan had a calendar based on the solar year and used largely by farmers. It divided the solar year into 12 parts, each about 30.44 days long.
Nihon gaikō bunsho: Kindai in'yōreki taishō hyō.
Gives the corresponding Western date for every day in the Chinese and Japanese lunar calendars between ad 1700 and 1911.
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Last revised: 8 March 2004.