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Ancient Chinese zodiac
The Chinese calendar is divided into 12 lunar months of 29 or 30 days (an astronomical lunar month is 29 days, 12 hours, 44 minutes and 5 seconds). The lunar months begin at the new moon. The full moon ideally falls on the 15th day of the month but often doesn’t. A year of 12 lunar months is 354 days long. So the seasons don't get out of wack, an extra month is inserted every three years or so according to strict rules. The origin of Chinese astrology and the lunar calendar is not known. According to legend it was devised by the legendary Yellow Emperor in in 2600 B.C. to record the Chinese Lunar New Year.

Both Gregorian and Chinese calendars are used in China and Korea, both of which celebrate two New Years — one on January 1st and one on the Chinese New Year in February. The Chinese calendar was not formally abandoned by the state until 1912 and is still used by in the countryside and used nationwide to set the dates of holidays. In Taiwan and Vietnam, the Chinese calendar is only used to set the days of holidays. Japan doesn't use the Chinese lunar calendar. New Years Day is celebrated on January 1st.

The traditional Chinese "lunar" way of designating years, months, days and hours was to use a system of combining one of the 10 Heavenly Stems (Tian Gan) with one of the 12 Earthly Branches (Di Zhi) to form 60 unique pairs in a complete cycle. The years themselves are organized into 60-year calendar cycles: five times the 12-year Chinese zodiac cycle. The current 60-year cycle extends from 1996 to 2055. The last one lasted from 1936 to 1995.

The traditional Chinese calendar merges the 12-animal Chinese zodiac with the five basic elements (water, fire, metal, earth and wood) so that you can gave have a year of the metal rooster or fire pig that run on a 6 year cycle. The year 2004 was the year the of the wood money, the previous wood-monkey year was in 1944 the next one is in 2064.

In China when you ask people how old they are it is not uncommon for them to respond with their a zodiac sign rather than their birth year. To gage their age you have to look at them and judge how old they look and then pick the birth year of their sign that most closely matches their appearance. But zodiac signs tell you more than just when a person was born. When someone responds ‘I am a pig’ it also imparts information about character, personality, preferences and compatibility with others as well as age. [Source: “CultureShock! China: A Survival Guide to Customs and Etiquette” by Angie Eagan and Rebecca Weiner, Marshall Cavendish 2011]

Good Websites and Sources: Chinese Calendar ; Wikipedia article on Chinese Calendar Wikipedia ; Chinese Astrology Chinatown Connection on Astrology Chinatown Connection ; Chinatown Connection on the China Zodiac Chinatown Connection ; Wikipedia article on Chinese Astrology Wikipedia

Chinese View of Time in the 19th Century

Arthur Henderson Smith wrote in “Chinese Characteristics”:“There is a significant difference in the salutations of the Chinese and of the Anglo-Saxons. The former says to his comrade, whom he casually meets, "Have you eaten rice?" The latter asks, "How do you do?" Doing is the normal condition of the one, as eating is the normal condition of the other. From that feeling which to us has become a second nature, that time is money, and under ordinary circumstances, is to be improved to its final second, the Chinese, like most Orientals, are singularly free. There are only twelve hours in the Chinese day, and the names of these hours do not designate simply the point where one of them gives places to another, as when we say three o'clock, but denote as well all the time covered by the twelfth part of a day which each of them connotes. In this way the term “noon," which would seem as definite as any, is employed of the entire period from 11 to 1 o'clock. “What time is it?” a Chinese inquired in our hearing, "when it is noon by the moon?" [Source:“Chinese Characteristics” by Arthur Henderson Smith, 1894. Smith (1845 -1932) was an American missionary who spent 54 years in China. In the 1920s, “Chinese Characteristics” was still the most widely read book on China among foreign residents there. He spent much of his time in Pangzhuang, a village in Shandong.]

“Phrased in less ambiguous language, the question which he intended to propound was this: "What is the time of night, when the moon is at the meridian?" Similar uncertainties pervade almost all the notes of times which occur in the language of every day life. "Sunrise" and "sunset" are as definite as anything in Chinese can be expected to be, though used with much latitude (and much longitude as well) but "midnight," like "noon," means nothing in particular, -and the ordinary division of the night by "watches," is equally vague, with the exception of the last one, which is often associated with the appearance of daylight.

Outside of cities or perhaps in a few large towns, there is no notice taken of the divisions of the day and even in the cities, the “watches" are of more or less uncertain duration. Of the portable time-pieces which we designate by this name, the Chinese, as a people, know nothing, and but the tiniest fraction of those who really own watches, govern their movements by them, even if they have the watches cleaned once every few years, and ordinarily keep them running, which is not often the case. The common people are quite content to tell their time by the altitude of the sun, which is variously described as one, two, or more "flagstaff's," or if the day is cloudy, a general result can be arrived at by observing the contraction and dilation of the pupil of a cat's eye, and such a result is quite accurate enough for all ordinary purposes. “The Chinese use of time, corresponds to the exactness of their measures of its flight.

“The same general truth is illustrated by the statements in regard to age, particularity in which is a national trait of the Chinese. While it is easy to ascertain one's age with exactness, by the animal governing the year in which he was born, and to which he therefore "belongs," nothing is more common than to hear the wildest approximation to exactness. An old man is "seventy or eighty years of age," when you know to a certainty that he was seventy only a year ago. The fact is, that in China a person becomes “eighty," the moment he stops being seventy, and this "general average" must be allowed for, if precision is desired. The habit of reckoning by "tens" is deep-seated, and leads to much vagueness. A few people are "ten or twenty" a "few tens" or perhaps "ever to many tens* and a strictly accurate enumeration is one of the rarest of experiences 'in China. The same vagueness extends upwards to "hundreds," "thousands" and "myriads," the practical limit of Chinese counting For greater accuracy than these general expressions denote the Chinese do not care. '

Origin of Chinese Lunar Calendar

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Lantern Festival in Taipei

The Chinese had established a solar year with 365 days by 1400 B.C.. This calendar is said to have been devised in 2357 B.C. by a legendary emperor but there is no evidence to back this up. The ancient Chinese lunar calendar inserted two months every five years to keep the sun and moon in synch. It was later revised to add seven extra months every 19 years which works out to 365 days a year. The ancient Hindus, Egyptians, Babylonians all used 365-day calendars.

The first year on the Chinese calendar is the first year of the reign of China’s first legendary Emperor in 2,698 B.C. It is not known whether this legendary emperor really existed. The year of 2007 on the Gregorian calendar was equal to the Lunar Year of 4705 on the Chinese Calendar.

The lunar calendar system is thought to have originated around 4,500 years ago. In ancient times, the imperial court employed a system of yin-yang duality, 10 heavenly stems and 12 terrestrial branches to numbers and symbols not only for years but also to months, days and even hours, Today, for example could be metal-dragon day, tomorrow could be a metal-snake day. The same system was used to divide the compass into 30-degree segments, 12 of them, for describing directions.

The Chinese zodiac system with animals and basic elements evolved late as a way of making the system accessible to ordinary people. The use of animals and elements and days to tell fortunes, analyze personalities and access compatibility developed out of astrological folklore much like Western constellation-based astrology did.

Imperial Chinese Calendar

Until the fall of the Last Emperor and the founding of the Republic of China in 1911, China used a complicated calendar based on a system of the reign years of emperors combined with the lunar calendar. The year A.D. 1900, for example, was the 26th year of Kuang-Hsü, the Brilliant Succession, on the Chinese calendar.

In the Chinese 60-year cyclical calendar, each dynasty had to be associated with one of the five elements of Taoism, and each had to appear at the predestined point for its "element" in the cyclical series. For centuries debates over dynastic legitimacy were translated into the language of the five elements; irregularities were explained with the insertion of quasi "leap years." The last emperor justified his coup by linking himself with the element that was next in succession.

According to legend time was divided into sets of 12 after the earth and the heavens were separated at the beginning of the universe. The Chinese calendar was created by the legendary Heavenly Jade Emperor who held a race with all the world animals, giving places on the calender to the top 12 finishers. The rat won the race after tricking the ox into giving him a ride to the finish line. The ox finished second.

Even after adopting the solar year in 1911, China continued to use dates beginning with the founding of Republic (the year 1911, for example, on the Gregorian calendar was equal to the year "1" on the Chinese calendar). The Chinese government didn't switch over to the "New Style" Gregorian calendar (the calendar most everybody uses today) until after the Communist takeover in 1949.

Auspicious Days, Months and Years in China

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Along the River During during
the Qingming Festival in the Song Dynasty
The 3rd and 17th days of the month are considered unlucky. Many Chinese don't work on these days. Double Ten Day, October 10th, is really, really unlucky. Couples also try to get married on auspicious days foretold by fortunetellers. Shengcheng bazi — the year, month, day and time the bride and groom were born are important in determining whether couples are compatible. See Marriage. One fortune teller told the International Herald Tribune, “The majority of Chinese believe in horoscope readings and do not merely consult them for fun."

The year of the horse began in February 2014. It was generally considered an auspicious time and business-savvy residents hoped for vigorous growth. "For the Asian economies, especially Hong Kong and China, their luck will be the same ... it will be an economically active year," Peter So, a master of feng shui, told Reuters.

The year 1995, was not only the year of the pig, it was also a leap year in which an extra eight month was added. Chinese believe that bad things are more likely to occur on a leap eighth month than any other time. According to an old Chinese proverb: "Better a leap seventh month than a leap eighth month, for a leap eight month means death." A leap eighth month occurs once every 20 to 50 years.

During the 1995 leap month between September 25 and October 23, Chinese in the northeast China wore blue socks, people in the southwest wore red socks and people in Beijing tied red threads around their wrists to ward off the harmful effects of the unlucky month. In Gansu province, many people slept outdoors out of fear that a major earthquake was going to occur.

To waylay fears a folklore scholar in Beijing announced the "fear that a leap eighth month brings disaster is sheer superstition" and an article in a leading intellectual newspaper reported that "according to history, there is no certain link between a leap eighth month and natural disasters." The artcile was accompanied by data that showed that none of the 10 major earthquakes between 1841 and 1980 fell on the five leap eight months in that period.

Still people were worried. Around the time of the previous leap eighth month in 1976, Zhou Enlai and Mao Zedong died and 250,000 people were killed in the Tangshan earthquake. In 1995, many people thought Deng Xiaoping was going to die during the leap month but in the end nothing really disastrous happened.

Chinese Time: a History of Dynasties

Ming Emperor Zhengde

Dr. Robert Eno of Indiana University wrote: “The Western world has a tradition of viewing historical time as a linear progression. We number our years consecutively, and easily conceptualize past eras in terms of centuries, succeeding one another as a type of narrative flow. Until the establishment of the Republic of China in 1912, the governments of Chinese history had all been led by kings or emperors, whose thrones were passed down on the principle of hereditary succession within a single, ruling family: a “dynasty.” The history of China before 1912 has traditionally been conceived in terms of a succession of dynasties – rulers of China passing their thrones to their sons through the generations, until the authority of the ruling family is undermined by serious misrule or military weakness, and a challenger’s armies conquer the government, installing a new “dynastic founder,” who begins the process again. [Source: Robert Eno, Indiana University /+/ ]

“Time was traditionally bound to the ruler. Each new ruler has begun the calendar anew, proclaiming a new “first year” upon the year of his (or, in a single celebrated case, her) accession. Years and dates did not reflect a notion of progressive time – a march towards “the future”; rather, time itself was inseparable from the ruler, whose edicts controlled the calendar. For millennia, rulers of China would exploit this tie by proclaiming new starts to the calendar even in the midst of their own personal reigns, as a way of wiping away past mistakes or launching new policy regimes. /+/

“Historical time was understood through a line of succession – the list of dynasties that had ruled China. Because there were periods of time where China was, in fact, not ruled as a single country by a single ruler, this line of dynasties, when listed in full detail, could be rather complex. However, it was – and still is – common when speaking of China’s past to refer to these periods of disunity by titles such as “the period of the Six Dynasties,” and so forth, and in this way, the three thousand year course of traditional Chinese history is often represented as a succession of just ten major dynastic houses.”

Major Dynastic Periods of Traditional Chinese History
Pre-imperial Shang c. 1500 – 1045 B.C.
Zhou 1045 – 256 B.C.
Imperial Qin 221 – 208 B.C.
Han 206 B.C. – AD 220
“Six Dynasties” 220 – 589
Sui 589 – 617
Tang 618 – 907
“Five Dynasties” 907 – 960
Song 960 – 1279
Yuan 1279 – 1368
Ming 1368 – 1644
Qing 1644 – 1911

Dr. Robert Eno of Indiana University wrote: “When people in China think of time in the distant past, they don’t think of it in terms of this or that century; they think back to dynasties. Each dynasty has a narrative of events and outstanding people, as well as a distinctive cultural character, and this makes Chinese cultural history, despite its great length, something that can be conceptualized with relative ease. The first two dynasties were ruled by “kings” (to translate the Chinese term into its rough English equivalent), whose power was somewhat limited, and whose “kingdoms” were significantly smaller than contemporary China. Beginning in the year 221 B.C., however, the greater part of today’s China was unified and then expanded under an enormously powerful but short-lived ruling house, the Qin (pronounced “ chin,” from which the word “China” is derived). From this time, China is considered to have become an empire, ruled by an “emperor,” a title which translates a grandiose term coined for himself by the founder of the Qin, a man known to history as “the First Emperor.”

Sixty-Day and Sixty-Year Cycles of Traditional Chinese Time

Dr. Eno wrote: “Although the annual calendar of early China underwent constant revision and years were always calculated relative to political rhythms, there was nevertheless one form of absolute timekeeping that, from Shang times to the present, has persisted unbroken. This is a sixty-day or sixty-year cyclical system, generated by the ordered succession of two series of ordinal signs, known as the ten heavenly stems and the twelve earthly branches. By matching, in sequence, the elements of the set of ten with the set of twelve, a sixty unit series is generated, organized in six units of ten. In this passage, the term wu-wu represents such a stem-branch combination (the two “ wus,” though homophones, are different characters). [Source: Robert Eno, Indiana University /+/ ]

“In ancient China, each day could be designated by a reign year, a month of the lunar calendar, and a day of the month, but it was also designated independently by a stem-branch cyclical sign, which showed its place within the sixty day sequence. Some aspects of daily life, such as sacrificial schedules, were based on the ten-day rhythm of the heavenly stems, which may be thought of as a type of week. (Months and years also received cyclical sign designations, although the earth-branch set of twelve figured more importantly there. The well-known Chinese animal-year cycle simply represents the earthly branches associated with corresponding animals.) Issues of fortune telling, a major concern of traditional China, were closely tied to the cyclical signs, which were considered to have deep mantic significance. /+/

“The stem-branch series of signs is linguistically very puzzling, and there are some scholars who believe that it is of non-Chinese origins. There are several other very unusual such sets associated with calendrical and astronomical terminology which also are suggestive of diffused cultural influences, perhaps from Central Asia or Mesopotamia.

Sexagenary cycle

Chinese Time in Terms of Heavenly Stems and Earthly Branches

Dr. Eno wrote: “The system of “Heavenly Stems and Earthly Branches: is called a sexagesimal system because that term denotes “base-sixty”; Babylonian calculation also employed a sexagesimal form. “Sexagenary” refers to a system of 60 “counters.” This series was applied to broad range of phenomena in China. The system pervades the oracle texts and Zhou bronzes that bear the names of the Shang kings. [Source: Robert Eno, Indiana University /+/ ]

These two series are combined in sequence by matching one stem to one branch, beginning with the first stem and the first branch (“jia-zi”), then the second stem and the second branch (“yi-chou”), and so forth. After the tenth stem is matched to the tenth branch (“gui-you”), the stem sequence reverts to the first member of the series, “jia”, but the branch sequence continues on to its eleventh member, “xu”. Thus the eleventh term in the stem-branch cycle is “jia-xu”. This is followed by “yi-hai”, after which the branch series must return to its first member, “zi”, while the stem series moves on to its third member, “bing”. “Bing-zi”is thus the thirteenth term of the stem-branch cycle. If you continue on in this fashion, you will find that the sixtieth term in the stem-branch cycle is “gui-hai”, combining the last terms of each of the two sets. The following term would thus be “jia-zi”, which begins the cycle all over again. /+/

“In traditional Chinese solar-lunar calendars, every year, month, and day was assigned a stem-branch term (each of these different temporal levels worked independently in this system—the term for the current year, for example, had no relation to the terms assigned to the current months or days). At each level, a cycle of sixty was generated. For example, in the earliest version of this reading, I wrote the following: “The year in which I’m writing, 1994 (actually, the part of the year after “Chinese New Year” in February), is a “jia-xu”year; so was 1934, and 2054 will also be a “jia-xu”year, as will 2654, if people remain on the planet to note it. I am typing this on September 28, which corresponds to the 23rd day of the eighth month in the traditional Chinese solar-lunar calendar: the eighth month this year is a “gui-you”month and today is “bing-chen”(although it's past midnight in China, so it is already a “ding-si”day there, where it counts).” /+/

“The use of these two series in traditional China extended in other directions. For example, still in terms of dating, the well known twelve-year animal-cycle of Chinese years is simply a variant on the Earthly Branch cycle. The reason we speak of the “year of the rat” or the “year of the dragon” is because each year is correlated with a sexagenary combination, and the cycle of twelve Earthly Branches is determines which of twelve animals corresponds to each year. (In some forms of Chinese astrology, a person’s character is seen to be correlated to the animal sign of the year of their birth, like our Western zodiac signs. For example, I turn out to be an “ox” because I was born in a year designated by the sexagenary combination “ji-chou”, and all years with “chou”take the sign of the ox – I’m not sure whether that’s an improvement over being a goat, where I’m filed for my daily horoscope in the West, but it’s nice to have choices in life.) /+/

“Another important use of these terms was in certain forms of naming people.We do not fully understand how this worked, but it will become very important to us in relation to the nature of the Shang kinship and kingship systems. If you refer back to the list of the Shang kings recorded by the “Shiji”, you will discover that all the “dynastic” kings, and certain of the pre-dynastic kings, were designated by titles that included an element from the Heavenly Stem series. For example, Tang the Successful was more properly called Tian-“yi”, where “Tian” is the Chinese character for Heaven and “yi”is the second of the Heavenly Stems. The stem-branch system is used to designate days in the Shang oracle texts. The date of each divination is recorded with cyclical terms at the beginning of most inscriptions. In some inscriptions, the month of the inscription appears at the end. “/+/

Heavenly stems

Historical Dating and Calendars in Ancient China

Dr. Eno wrote: “In traditional China, there was no system of dating years in an unbroken, consecutive stream. Years were noted according to their location within the reigns of specific kings. One sign of the legitimacy of a ruler is whether or not chronicles date events according to his reign. A new ruler, properly a king, but during the eras of disunity of the late Zhou sometimes simply any patrician lord, would often upon assuming the throne issue a calendar in his name. This was often not an empty gesture. [Source: Robert Eno, Indiana University /+/ ]

“The basic calendrical system of ancient China was a rather unstable solar-lunar year, calculations for which were complex and difficult. Calendars frequently moved far from synchronization with the natural rhythms of the seasons and the stars, which could disrupt agricultural planning (with devastating effects on the economy), confuse the systems of religious sacrifice, and make political activity chaotic – imagine a state where not only clocks but even calendars were not synchronized trying to map out a prolonged military campaign! /+/

“Earlier, Sima Qian’s narrative noted as one of King Wen’s accomplishments that he adjusted the Zhou calendar: this was a significant political act standardizing a basic social measure. Now, when Sima Qian begins to date events according to the elapsed years from King Wu’s accession, he is sending a strong signal that the locus of legitimacy in the Chinese cultural sphere had, from this point on, effectively shifted from the Shang king to the lord of the Zhou people.” /+/

China’s 24-Month and 12-Day Week Calendars

The ancient southern Chinese twelve-day week is a classic example of a weekly cycle that served to regulate economic transactions. Three-day market cycles regularly held on the first, fourth, seventh and tenth days of the week – were clearly derived from it. So were the six six-day market cycles. [Source: “Seven Day Circle”, Eviatar Zerubavel, 1989]

The Chinese initiated a 24-month solar calendar as early as 2,000 years ago. The zodiacal cycle is divided into 24 segments, each lasting roughly two weeks. In the lunar calendar, the date of each solar term is more or less fixed, apart from minor changes of a day or so. Associated with the agriculture cycle and healthy eating, t he 24 solar periods were determined by changes in the sun's position throughout the year, so the system is based on the duration of sunlight per day, temperature, humidity and other factors affecting the cultivation of grain, vegetables, fruit and breeding of livestock. They also determine outdoor activities and indoor entertainment. [Source: Wu Yiyao, China Daily, June 21, 2013 ]

The traditionally 24-month Chinese calendar takes into consideration the longest and the shortest days and the two days each year when the length of the day equals that of the night— in other words the Summer and Winter Solstices and the Spring and Autumn Equinoxes. Today the Chinese solar year has 24 solar months. During the Shang Dynasty it had four; in the Zhou Dynasty (11th century B.C. - 221 B.C.) it used eight. In the Western Han Dynasty (206BC - 24) the 24 month system was adopted. [Source:]

A China who grew up in a farming family told the China Daily: The 24-solar-term cycle feels "embedded in my mind...It's traditional wisdom, based on long-time observations. It helps people to understand the best times for sowing various vegetables and grains, irrigating the land, and harvesting the produce. I use the same principles to provide skincare advice to customers, because the fundamental idea behind it is to do the right thing at the right time.”

Months of China’s 24-Month Calendars

The traditionally China solar months have meaningful names. Some reflect the change of seasons such as the Beginning of Spring, the Beginning of Summer, the Beginning of Autumn, and the Beginning of Winter; some embody the phenomena of climate like the Waking of Insects (Jing Zhe), Pure Brightness (Qing Ming), Lesser Fullness of Grain (Xiao Man) and Grain in Beard (Mang Zhong); and some indicate the change of climate like Rain Water (Yu Shui), Grain Rain (Gu Yu), Lesser Heat (Xiao Shu), Greater Heat (Da Shu), and so on. [Source: ^^^]

According to “These twenty-four solar months each suggest the position of the sun every time it travels15 degrees on the ecliptic longitude. In each month there are often two solar months; the first one is generally named 'Jie Qi' and the other one 'Zhong Qi'. Their dates are mirrored by the Gregorian calendar, so we find that during the first half of a year 'Jie Qi' is around the 6th day of a solar month, 'Zhong Qi' around the 21st; in the second half of a year, 'Jie Qi' is around the 8th and 'Zhong Qi' around the 23rd.” ^^^

The Twenty-four Solar months in 2015 (Solar months (English translation, China name), beginning date, meaning): 1) Lesser Cold (Xiao Han); January 6th; It is rather cold. 2) Greater Cold (Da Han); January 20th; The coldest moment of a year. 3) The Beginning of Spring (Li Chun); February 4th; Spring begins. 4) Rain Water (Yu Shui); February 19th; It begins to rain. 5) The Waking of Insects (Jing Zhe); March 6th; Hibernating animals come to sense. 6) The Spring Equinox (Chun Fen); March 21st; Day and night are equally long. 7) Pure Brightness (Qing Ming); April 5th; It is warm and bright. 8) Grain Rain (Gu Yu); April 20th; Rainfall is helpful to grain. 9) The Beginning of Summer (Li Xia); May 6th; Summer begins. 10) Lesser Fullness of Grain (Xiao Man); May 21st; Kernels plump. 11) Grain in Beard (Mang Zhong); June 6th; Wheat grows ripe. 12) The Summer Solstice (Xia Zhi); June22nd; It has the longest daytime and the shortest night of the year. ^^^

13) Lesser Heat (Xiao Shu); July 7th; Torridity comes. 14) Greater Heat (Da Shu); July 23rd; The hottest moment of a year. 15) The Beginning of Autumn (Li Qiu); August 8th; Autumn begins. 16) The End of Heat (Chu Shu); August 23rd; Heat hides. 17) White Dew (Bai Lu); September 8th; Dew curdles. 18) The Autumn Equinox (Qiu Fen); September 23rd; The mid of autumn. 19) Cold Dew (Han Lu); October 8th; Dew is very cold. 20) Frost's Descent (Shuang Jiang); October 24th; Frost descends. 21) The Beginning of Winter (Li Dong); November 8th; Winter begins. 22) Lesser Snow (Xiao Xue); November 22nd; it begins to snow. 23) Greater Snow (Da Xue); December 7th; It snows heavily. 24) The Winter Solstice (Dong Zhi); December 22nd; The shortest daytime and the longest night of a year. ^^^

China’s 24-Month Calendar, Health and Modern Life

Wu Yiyao wrote in the China Daily: 'Lychees for June 5; cherries for June 21; waxberries for July 7," intones Wang Lanzhi, a 46-year-old Shanghai housewife, as if reciting a poem. This routine has been directing her purchases and use of fruit for decades, she says. For Wang, food shopping is not dictated by price. Instead, the zodiac rules what she eats every fortnight of the year. Like buying carnations on Mother's Day or roasting a bird near the end of the year, buying roasted green tea during the guyu period in mid-April, which is also known as "grain rain", and making plum syrup on xiazhi, or summer solstice, is essential for Chinese who follow an annual cycle of 24 solar periods. [Source: Wu Yiyao, China Daily, June 21, 2013 ]

“Smartphone application developers have launched apps to help users identify the correct solar period, what to eat or use and the type of entertainment that accords with any given period within the cycle. "For many young people who spend most of their working day indoors, it is really difficult to sense the change of season and time, and this electronic reminder tells us not only how to identify that, but also what to observe during time changes, the extended or shortened periods of sunlight, falling leaves or blooming flowers," says Zhu Ting, a 29-year-old accountant. Zhu has three apps on her smartphone related to the 24 solar terms. They provide comprehensive guide to leading a healthy and fulfilling life. One app focuses on dining, another on workouts and a third on the natural scenes to see during the two-week cycles.

“An increasing number of consumers are seeking guides that provide more information on the traditional art of "living in accordance with the times". Books and photo albums detailing the 24 solar periods are among the most popular guides. Xiao Yuan, a backpacker who has been traveling around China since 2007, says he has visited Hangzhou, the capital of Zhejiang province, more than 20 times, because he read a book about the 24 solar periods in the city. "It is amazing that the food, the people, the scenic spots are all so different during the different phases of the year," says Xiao.

“Usually travel guides list the most popular sightseeing spots, based on the demands of travelers - be they zealous shoppers, theater-goers, adventurers, or just someone who favors sleeping in a cozy bed at a resort hotel. "Seeing a city in a different light, within the frame of time changes, brings something new to traveling. You don't need to boast, 'Look, I've been to 200 cities.' Instead, you can say 'I've seen 24 faces of the same city,'" says Xiao. For example, the best time to visit the Manjuelong area in Hangzhou, is around qiufen, the autumnal equinox, when sweet-scented osmanthus flowers are in full bloom. Nothing feels better than sipping green tea amid the sweet fragrance of osmanthus, under the silver moonlight, says Xiao.

Business Opportunities Provided by China’s 24-Month Calendar

Wu Yiyao wrote in the China Daily: “In Wuhan, Hubei province, 22-year-old Hu Cheng has noticed the business opportunities offered by the 24 solar periods. During the past 12 months, the marketing graduate has taken more than 2,000 photos of his college campus and has sorted 24 of them into an album. "Many residents complain about the city's climate - the four seasons are vaguely divided. Temperatures can drop more than 10 degrees within 24 hours. People call Wuhan 'an irregular city," says Hu. However, he has observed the golden leaves, rapid snowfalls, dazzling sunlight and powerful downpours during the four seasons. His knowledge of the 24 solar periods has helped him notice differences in the natural world from day to day. "I would like to use the photos to make a series of postcards - they would be a nice record of my college days and also help people identify the natural cycle of days in the city," says Hu. [Source: Wu Yiyao, China Daily, June 21, 2013 ]

“The themes of the 24 solar periods have also become a marketing tool for department stores and online retailers, who try to recommend tailor-made products to potential customers. "Western festivals, such as Valentine's Day and Thanksgiving, are important times to boost consumption. Similarly, the solar terms are helpful in selling seasonal products," says Luo Shujuan, a 26-year-old beauty consultant at a department store on Nanjing Road, one of the busiest streets in downtown Shanghai. "The change in solar periods usually results in changes in demand for skincare products. If you have an insight into these delicate shifts from days that are humid but not too hot, to those that are scorching, dry-and-cool to freezing, it is much easier to understand the products most helpful to consumers," says Luo.

“Miao Sihui, a consultant with Shanghai-based Siyuan Consultancy says the market strategy based on the 24 solar periods is smart and draws on people's psychological needs. "Nowadays people have a stronger desire than ever to get close to nature and share genuine interpersonal relationships. Consumption during the 24 solar terms mirror those urges precisely," says Miao. Solar-term related consumption can help people to connect with changes in the zodiac. The resultant consumption is mainly about caring for people in intimate relationships, such as family members, and doesn't focus on exuberance. Rather, the focus is "in accordance with the natural environment", says Miao. Another selling point about solar-term themed marketing is that it provides 24 opportunities every year. "Twenty-four is a big number, and it runs in a cycle. You can do it throughout the year, and it helps to cultivate frequent visitors," says Miao.

Image Sources: 1) People celebrating, All Posters com Search Chinese Art; 2) Spring Festival travel mess, China Trends; 3) Lantern Festival, CNTO; 4) Others, Taiwan Tourism Office.

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated September 2021

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