Happy New Year!


The Ministry totally missed the opportunity to wish the Chinese people a happy new year. Today is the second day of the new Chinese year (Lunar New Year) .

The rotation of the Earth about its axis, causes (the apparent) movement of the Sun from East to West across the sky. So we define one cycle of movement of the Sun as one ‘Day.’ The Chinese word is very straight forward and calls one day as one ‘Sun.’ By 480 A.D., Ju Chongzhi refined it to 365.2428 days, or 52 seconds more than the modern value of 365.2422 days. The concept of a “week” is less important in the Chinese calendar.

The ancient Egyptians had a ten-day week, and so did the Chinese. The ancient Assyrians invented the seven-day week, and the names of days of the week that we use even today are based on a system of assigning the five planets visible to the naked eye, the sun, and the moon to the seven days of the week.

The Chinese month is defined by the Moon. Each night, the appearance of the Moon changes. From ‘new moon’ to ‘full moon’ and back. So we define a ‘Month’ as the time it takes for the Moon to go through one cycle of motion. As it happens, this takes about 29.5 days. So we round the month to be either 29 days or 30 days. Again, in the Chinese language a month is simply a ‘Moon.’ (The English word “month” is derived from the word “moon”).


2007 is the year of the pig (boar)

The next larger unit of measurement of time is the ‘Year.’ For this we go back to the Sun again. Careful observations reveal that the over a period of many months (12), the position of the Sun shifts from very high overhead to a much lower point at Noon time. The length of daylight time also changes from longer to shorter. Even more importantly, the weather changes from hot to cold, giving rise to the four seasons of Winter, Spring, Summer and Fall. It is logical, therefore, to define the length of this time period as a ‘Year.’ A year is a little more than 365 days. In 104 B.C. the length of a year was determined to an accuracy of 365.2502 days. A normal year has 12 lunar months, with the length of lunar month defined above. In order to make up to 365.24 days, an extra month is added during the Leap Year.

For historical discussions of long periods, longer units of time are handy.

In the Western calendar terminology:

Decade = 10 years
Century = 100 years
Millennium = 1,000 years

For example, 2007 is in the Third Millenium, 21-th Century, first decade and 7-th year.

In Chinese calendar terminology:

Great Year = 12 years
Cycle = 5 Great Years = 60 years
Epoch = 60 Cycles = 60 x 60 years = 3,600 years

Year 2007 is now in the Second Epoch, 18th Cycle, 24rd Year.

By this method of counting, both the Gregorian Calendar and the Chinese Calendar must pick arbitrarily its Year One. Thus, we are in Year 2007 and Year 4704 respectively.


Chinese New Year in London (China Town)

Comments are closed.