Happy Chinese New Year! – Chinese Calendar

Today is the first day of Chinese New Year – the most important Chinese holiday – and this year is the Year of the Pig. In China, pigs are the symbol of wealth, prosperity, and good fortune. Hence, years of the Pig are thought to be good for business and earning money.

Chinese calendar has 12 different animal signs, and they are repeated ever 12-year cycle. Where do these zodiacs come from? According to one legend, the Jade Emperor (mentioned in the post about Tai Shan) needed animals to serve as guards in his palace, so he told animals to come and see him. The Rat was supposed to tell the Cat about it, but didn’t – hence the Cat didn’t come to the Jade Emperor’s palace and there is no Cat sign in the Chinese Calendar. The first to arrive on the chosen day was the Ox – however, the cunning Rat rode on the Ox’s back and in the last moment, jumped in front of him, thus becoming the first animal to finish the race. Ox was second, and then Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Sheep, Monkey, Rooster and Dog. The pig was the last one – supposedly, he overslept and was the last to come to the Jade Emperor. That’s why Pig is the last sign in the 12-year cycle.

The animal signs are assigned to people born in corresponding years.

1
An example of a Chinese calendar from the Year of the Tiger

So according to the Chinese Zodiac:

  • people born in a year of the Rat (1948, 1960, 1972, 1984, 1996, 2008) are ambitious and honest, but big spenders; they get angry easily. They are compatible with Dragons and Monkeys but should avoid Horses.
  • People born in a year of the Ox (1949, 1961, 1973, 1985, 1997, 2009) are bright, inspiring and easy-going, and they usually make good parents. They are compatible with Snakes and Roosters, but not Sheep.
  • People born in a year of the Tiger (1950, 1962, 1974, 1986, 1998, 2010), although courageous and sometimes a bit aggressive, they can also be sensitive and deep; they are compatible with Horses and Dogs but should avoid Monkeys.
  • People born in a year of the Rabbit (1951, 1963, 1975, 1987, 1999, 2011) are talented and affectionate, but also shy. They seek a peaceful life. They are compatible with Sheep and Pigs, but not Rooster.
  • People born in a year of the Dragon (1952, 1964, 1976, 1988, 2000, 2012) are easily excited; stubborn on the outside and soft-hearted on the inside. Natural born leaders, compatible with Monkeys and Rats, but should avoid Dogs.
  • People born in a year of the Snake (1953, 1965, 1977, 1989, 2001, 2013) are wise,, passionate and determined, but also vain; good with money. Compatible with Roosters and Oxen, but not Pigs.
  • People born in a year of the Horse (1954, 1966, 1978, 1990, 2002, 2014) are cheerful and popular among friends, but impatient. Also good with money. Compatible with Tigers and Dogs, but not Rats.
  • People born in a year of the Sheep (1955, 1967, 1979, 1991, 2003, 2015) are selfless, loving and passionate. They are also creative, but timid and don’t handle stress well. Most compatible with Rabbits and Pigs, but should avoid Oxen.
  • People born in a year of the Monkey (1956, 1968, 1980, 1992, 2004, 2016) are very intelligent and able to influence people – they make good politicians. They are talented and seek knowledge, but sometimes get easily discouraged. Compatible with Dragons and Rats, but not Tigers.
  • People born in a year of the Rooster (1957, 1969, 1981, 1993, 2005, 2017) are devoted to work and quest for knowledge. They sometimes are selfish and eccentric. Most compatible with Snakes and Oxen, but not Rabbits.
  • People born in a year of the Dog (1958, 1970, 1982, 1994, 2006, 2018) are honest, loyal and generous. They are successful, but sometimes are stubborn. Compatible with Horses and Tigers, should avoid Dragons.
  • People born in a year of the Pig (1959, 1971, 1983, 1995, 2007, 2019) are honest, affectionate and kind to loved ones, sometimes impulsive and short tempered. They are compatible with Sheep and Rabbits but should avoid other Pigs.

Note: since in Chinese traditional calendar years start around the end of January or in February, it means that people born in January or maybe even in the beginning of February are born under the previous year’s sign. It’s necessary to check when the first day of the specific year was to make sure about one’s Chinese sign.

I thought it would also be a good idea to explain how Chinese years are counted. The Chinese traditional calendar is said to have originated in times of mythical Xia dynasty (around 2070-1600 BC; it’s mythical because its existence hasn’t been entirely proven yet, but Chinese people traditionally count it into their “5000 year-long history”). I was recently asked if every year has the same amount of days (at least on average) and the answer is no. In the traditional Chinese calendar (which is a lunisolar calendar, meaning based both on the moon phases and the position of the Sun throughout the year), one year usually has either 354 or 355 days. It has 12 months and some of the months are “short” (小月 xiǎoyuè) and have 29 days, and some of them are “long” (大月 dàyuè) with 30 days. Which month is small and which month is big, changes from year to year because in the Chinese calendar, the first day of each month (called 初一 chūyī or 朔日 shuò rì) has to happen on the day of the new moon (the first phase of the Moon, when it’s a very slim crescent only beginning to thicken, not visible to the eye), so the length of each month is decided by the amount of time between new moons.

When a year has 354 or 355 days, it means that the number of days is 11 days smaller than the real number of days according to the solar year (which is 365.25 days long). To solve that, in the cycle of 19 years, 7 additional months are added. These months happen every 2-3 years and are called ”leap months (rùn yuè). Years with a leap month in them have 383 or 384 days. For instance, next year, 2020, will contain a leap month between the 4th and 5th month and will have 29 extra days.

So, according to the Chinese traditional calendar, the year that started today is the year 4716, so it’s 2696 years later than in the Gregorian calendar. In their daily life, Chinese people use the Gregorian calendar, however, they more or less approximately know when the Chinese festivals marked by the traditional calendar should happen. For instance, around the Spring Festival (New Year) Chinese people tend to mark the flow of time using the traditional dates – for instance, if you tell a Chinese person that they should come to work after 元宵节 – Lantern Festival that is celebrated on the 15th day of the year and marks the end of New Year celebration – they will know when it is.

Additionally, every year is divided into 24 solar terms (节气 jiéqì). They signify changes in the weather throughout the year and are important in agriculture since they ensure that the calendar stays synchronized with the seasons. The solar terms are based on the position of the Sun and are used to calculate leap months by helping decide which month should be repeated (so next year will have two 4th months).

The solar terms are:

  • 立春 lìchūn, Beginning of Spring: February 3, 4or 5.
  • 雨水 yǔshuǐ, Rain Water: February 18, 19 or 20 – in this term it’s expected to rain and snowfalls are rare.
  • 惊蛰 jīngzhé, Waking of Insects: March 5,6 or 7 – nature awakens from the winter sleep.
  • 春分 chūnfēn, Spring Equinox: March 20 or 21.
  • 清明 qīngmíng, Pure Brightness: April 4,5 or 6 – tea leaves harvested in this season are prized for their freshness; also, it is the season for sweeping the graves of one’s ancestors.
  • 谷雨 gǔyǔ, Grain Rain: April 19, 20, 21 – marks the beginning of an early tea picking season and the right time to sow wheat.
  • 立夏 lìxià, Beginning of Summer: May 5, 6 or 7.
  • 小满 xiǎomǎn, Lesser Fullness of Grain: May 20, 21 or 22 – the winter wheat, sown in the previous autumn, is filling out.
  • 芒种 mángzhòng, Grain in Beard: June 5, 6 or 7 – it’s the end of the grain-growing season and the last chance for sowing.
  • 夏至 xiàzhì, Summer Solstice: June 21 or 22 – the longest day of the year.
  • 小暑 xiǎoshǔ, Lesser Heat: July 6, 7 or 8.
  • 大暑 dàshǔ, Greater Heat: July 22, 23 or 24 – the hottest period of the year.
  • 立秋 lìqiū, Beginning of Autumn: August 7, 8 or 9.
  • 处暑 chǔshǔ, End of Heat: August 22, 23 or 24 – marks the end of summer.
  • 白露 báilù, White Dew: September 7, 8, 9 – Autumn dews occur.
  • 秋分 qiūfēn, Autumn Equinox: September 22, 23 or 24.
  • 寒露 hánlù, Cold Dew: October 8 or 9, when first leaves start to fall.
  • 霜降 shuāngjiàng, Frost’s Descent: October 23 or 24, when frost may occur and bring the first film of ice.
  • 立冬 lìdōng, Beginning of Winter: November 7 or 8.
  • 小雪 xiǎoxuě, Lesser Snow: November 22 or 23 – small snowfalls occur.
  • 大雪 dàxuě, Greater Snow: December 6, 7 or 8 – more snow.
  • 冬至 dōngzhì, Winter Solstice: December 21, 22 or 23.
  • 小寒 xiǎohán, Lesser Cold: January 5, 6 or 7.
  • 大寒 dàhán, Greater Cold: January 20 or 21 – this period is the coldest in the whole year and after it, the weather starts growing warmer.

Apart from the things mentioned above, the Chinese calendar and astrology have many more elements that are very complex and I may write about them in the future. Today, that’s all from me. Again, happy Chinese New Year to you all! I hope the Pig Year will be good to you.

Sources:

[1] [2] [3]

4. 现代汉语词典,第五版,中国社会科学院语言研究所词典编辑室, 2006

5. A Modern Chinese-English Dictionary (现代汉语词典) Foreign Language Teaching and Research Press, 2011