Chinese Calendar

            The Chinese Lunar New Year is the longest chronological record in history, dating from 2637 BCE, when the Emperor Huang Ti introduced the first cycle of the zodiac. Like the Western calendar, the Chinese Lunar calendar is a yearly one, with the start of the lunar year being based on the cycles of the moon. Therefore, because of this cyclical dating, the beginning of the year can fall anywhere between late January and the middle of February. In 1983 it fell on February 12th, and in 2005 it was on Febraury 9th. A complete cycle takes 60 years and is made up of five cycles of 12 years each. Historically, years used to be counted since the accession of an emperor, but this was abolished after the 1911 revolution.

The Chinese Lunar calendar names each of the twelve years after an animal. Legend has it that the Lord Buddha summoned all the animals to come to him before he departed from earth. Only twelve came to bid him farewell and as a reward he named a year after each one in the order they arrived. The Chinese believe the animal ruling the year in which a person is born has a profound influence on personality, saying: "This is the animal that hides in your heart."

The Chinese calendar is based on exact astronomical observations of the longitude of the sun and the phases of the moon. This means that principles of modern science have had an impact on the Chinese calendar.

The Chinese calendar - like the Hebrew - is a combined solar/lunar calendar in that it strives to have its years coincide with the tropical year and its months coincide with the synodic months. It is not surprising that a few similarities exist between the Chinese and the Hebrew calendar:

  • An ordinary year has 12 months, a leap year has 13 months.

  • An ordinary year has 353, 354, or 355 days, a leap year has 383, 384, or 385 days.

When determining what a Chinese year looks like, one must make a number of astronomical calculations:
First, determine the dates for the new moons. Here, a new moon is the completely "black" moon (that is, when the moon is in conjunction with the sun), not the first visible crescent used in the Islamic and Hebrew calendars. The date of a new moon is the first day of a new month.
Secondly, determine the dates when the sun's longitude is a multiple of 30 degrees. (The sun's longitude is 0 at Vernal Equinox, 90 at Summer Solstice, 180 at Autumnal Equinox, and 270 at Winter Solstice.) These dates are called the Principal Terms and are used to determine the number of each month:

Principal Term 1 occurs when the sun's longitude is 330 degrees.
Principal Term 2 occurs when the sun's longitude is 0 degrees.
Principal Term 3 occurs when the sun's longitude is 30 degrees.
Principal Term 11 occurs when the sun's longitude is 270 degrees.
Principal Term 12 occurs when the sun's longitude is 300 degrees.
Each month carries the number of the Principal Term that occurs in that month.

In rare cases, a month may contain two Principal Terms; in this case the months numbers may have to be shifted. Principal Term 11 (Winter Solstice) must always fall in the 11th month.

All the astronomical calculations are carried out for the meridian 120 degrees east of Greenwich. This roughly corresponds to the east coast of China.

Some variations in these rules are seen in various Chinese communities.

Leap years have 13 months. To determine if a year is a leap year, calculate the number of new moons between the 11th month in one year (i.e., the month containing the Winter Solstice) and the 11th month in the following year. If there are 13 new moons from the start of the 11th month in the first year to the start of the 11th month in the second year, a leap month must be inserted.

In leap years, at least one month does not contain a Principal Term. The first such month is the leap month. It carries the same number as the previous month, with the additional note that it is the leap month.

Within each 60-year cycle, each year is assigned name consisting of two components:

The first component is a Celestial Stemm. These words have no English equivalent:

1. jia 6. ji
2. yi 7. geng
3. bing 8. xin
4. ding 9. ren
5. wu    10. gui

The second component is a Terrestrial Branch. The names of the corresponding animals in the zodiac cycle of 12 animals are given in parentheses.

1. zi (rat)
Linked to Sagittarius
T'ai Chi symbol: Yin
Fixed element: water (+)
Color: light blue
Rats are said to be imaginative, charming and very generous to those they love - although they do have a tendency to be quick-tempered and over-critical. They are supposed to make good writers, critics and publicists. 

7. wu (horse)
Linked to Gemini
T'ai Chi symbol: Yang
Fixed element: fire (+)
Color: orange
If you are born in the Year of the Horse then you are amazingly hard working and very independent. Although you are intelligent and friendly, you can sometimes be a bit selfish. Careerwise you would make a good scientist or poet. 
2. chou (buffalo/ox)
Linked to Capricorn
T'ai Chi symbol: Yin
Fixed element: water (-)
Color: violet
Oxen are born leaders, inspiring confidence in everyone they come into contact with. However, they can be too demanding. Methodical and good with their hands, they make fine surgeons and hairdressers. 
8. wei (goat/sheep)
Linked to Sagittarius
T'ai Chi symbol: Yang
Fixed element: fire (-)
Color: pink
Those born in the Year of the Sheep are said to be charming, elegant and artistic, who like material comforts. A bit of a worrier they also have a tendency to complain about things. Jobs as actors, gardeners or beachcombers would suit.
3. yin (tiger)
Linked to Aquarius
T'ai Chi symbol: Yang
Fixed element: wood (+)
Color: green
Tigers are said to be bold and adventurous, and are bestowed with initiative and charm. However, they have a tendency to be risk takers, making them act before they think about the consequences. They tend to make good bosses, explorers or racing drivers. 
9. shen (monkey)
Linked to Leo
T'ai Chi symbol: Yin
Fixed element: metal (+)
Color: gold
If you are born in the Year of the Monkey, you are very intelligent, well-liked by everyone, and will have success in any field you choose. Lucky old you! 
4. mao (hare/rabbit)
Linked to Pisces
T'ai Chi symbol: Yin
Fixed element: wood (-)
Color: light green
Rabbits are affectionate, co-operative and pleasant, with lots of friends. But they can get too sentimental and seem superficial. Ideal careers areas include law, diplomacy or the stage.
10. you (rooster/cock)
Linked to Virgo
T'ai Chi symbol: Yang
Fixed element: metal (-)
Color: peach
The sign of the Rooster indicates a person who is hard-working and definite about their decisions. Roosters are not afraid to speak their minds and can therefore sometimes come across as boastful. They make good restaurant owners and world travelers.
5. chen (dragon)
Linked to Aires
T'ai Chi symbol: Yang
Fixed element: wood (+)
Color: aquamarine
Dragons tend to be popular individuals who are always full of life and enthusiasm, with a reputation for being fun-loving. They make good priests, artists and politicians. 
11. xu (dog)
Linked to Libra
T'ai Chi symbol: Yin
Fixed element: metal (+)
Color: light yellow
Dogs are honest and faithful to those they love but they tend to worry too much and find fault with others. They make ideal secret agents or business people. 
6. si (snake)
Linked to Taurus
T'ai Chi symbol: Yang
Fixed element: fire (-)
Color: red
People born in the year of the Snake are romantic and deep-thinking, wise and charming, although they tend to dismiss others too quickly and are a bit stingy with money. Ideal jobs include teaching or psychiatry.
12. hai (boar/pig)
Linked to Scorpio
T'ai Chi symbol: Yin
Fixed element: water (-)
Color: dark blue
People born in the Year of the Boar are honest and tolerant and make good friends, but tend to expect the same from everyone else, and more often than not they end up disappointed. They thrive in the arts as entertainers.

Each of the two components is used sequentially. Thus, the 1st year of the 60-year cycle becomes jia-zi, the 2nd year is yi-chou, the 3rd year is bing-yin, etc. When we reach the end of a component, we start from the beginning: The 10th year is gui-you, the 11th year is jia-xu (restarting the Celestial Stem), the 12th year is yi-hai, and the 13th year is bing-zi (restarting the Terrestrial Branch). Finally, the 60th year becomes gui-hai.

This way of naming years within a 60-year cycle goes back approximately 2000 years. A similar naming of days and months has fallen into disuse, but the date name is still listed in calendars.

It is customary to number the 60-year cycles since 2637 B.C.E., when the calendar was supposedly invented. In that year the first 60-year cycle started.

The current 60-year cycle started on 2 Feb 1984. That date bears the name bing-yin in the 60-day cycle, and the first month of that first year bears the name gui-chou in the 60-month cycle.

This means that the year wu-yin, the 15th year in the 78th cycle, started on 28 Jan 1998. The 20th year in the 78th cycle, started on 1 Feb 2003.

The following are dates for Chinese/Lunar New Year's day:

Chinese year   Zodiac animal   Gregorian calendar
4693 Boar January 31, 1995
4694 Rat February 19, 1996
4695 Ox February 7, 1997
4696 Tiger January 28, 1998
4697 Hare/Rabbit February 16, 1999
4698 Dragon February 5, 2000
4699 Snake January 24, 2001
4700 Horse February 12, 2002
4701 Ram/Sheep February 1, 2003
4702 Monkey January 22, 2004
4703 Rooster February 9, 2005
4704 Dog January 29, 2006
4705 Boar February 18, 2007
4706 Rat February 7, 2008
4707 Ox January 26, 2009
4708 Tiger February 10, 2010
4709 Hare/Rabbit February 3, 2011
4710 Dragon January 23, 2012
4711 Snake February 10, 2013
4712 Horse January 31, 2014
4713 Ram/Sheep February 19, 2015
4714 Monkey February 9, 2016
4715 Rooster January 28, 2017
4716 Dog February 16, 2018
4717 Boar February 5, 2019
4718 Rat January 25, 2020


To find our you Chinese zodiac symbol, please enter your birth year. For example: 1975

In the early 1990s, Chinese astronomers discovered that there was an error in the Chinese calendar for 2033. The traditional calendar claimed that the leap month would follow the 7th month, while in fact it comes after the 11th month. It is very unusual that the 11th month has a leap month, in fact it hasn't happened since the calendar reform in 1645 (before 1645, all months had the same probability for having a leap month). But many Chinese astronomers still claim that there will never be a leap month after the 12th and 1st month. In addition, there will be a leap month after the 1st month in 2262 (in fact, it should have happened in 1651, but they got the calculations wrong!) and there will be a leap month after the 12th month in 3358. Since the Chinese calendar is an astronomical calendar, predictions require delicate astronomical calculations, so my computations for 3358 should probably be taken with a grain of salt.

The Chinese calendar does not use a continuous year count! They used a 60 year cycle and a system of regional years (starting with each emperor). Before the 1911 revolution, Sun Yat-sen wanted to establish a republican alternative to the imperial reign cycles. According to Chinese tradition, the first year of the Yellow Emperor was 2698 BCE, so he introduced a counting system based on this. Under this system, 2000 is year 4698. An alternative system is to start with the first historical record of the 60-day cycle from March 8, 2637 BCE. Based on this system, 2000 is year 4637.

Although the yin-yang li has been continuously employed by the Chinese, foreign calendars were introduced to the Chinese, the Hindu calendar, for instance, during the T'ang (Tang) dynasty (618-907), and were once used concurrently with the native calendar. This situation also held true for the Muslim calendar, which was introduced during the Yüan dynasty (1206-1368). The Gregorian calendar was taken to China by Jesuit missionaries in 1582, the very year that it was first used by Europeans. Not until 1912, after the general public adopted the Gregorian calendar, did the yin-yang li lose its primary importance.

Western (pre-Copernican) astronomical theories were introduced to China by Jesuit missionaries in the seventeenth century. Gradually, more modern Western concepts became known. Following the revolution of 1911, the traditional practice of counting years from the accession of an emperor was abolished.

Please NOTE that the above information is just a brief explanation of the Chinese calendar. More information can be found at libraries.

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