Mongolia, the Tangut country, and the solitudes of northern Tibet/Volume 1/The Chinese Year


P. 65.

The author's account of this matter is far from exact.

There are 12 'moons ' or months in the ordinary year. These are some of 29 and some of 30 days, not alternating, but regulated by certain fixed rules, and the common year consists of 354 or 355 days. This, to keep the year in accordance vith the sun, demands the frequent intercalation of an extra 'moon;' and of such intercalary moons there are 7 in 19 years. Thus, in 7 years out of 19 the year has 13 months. The year of 13 months consists of 384 or 385 days. This system of intercalation is believed to date from more than 2000 years B.C.

The first day of the year is not, as with us, a fixed day, but is a kind of movable feast, never the same two years running. It is the first day of that lunation during which the sun enters our sign Pisces. It may, therefore, be any day between January 22 and February 20, inclusive. Hence the first day of the year must be determined, before the correspondence of the moons with our calendar can be rightly assigned.

There originally was in all probability a year-cycle of twelve years, but the cycle in use for ages is one of sixty years. The years of the cycle are named by the combination of two series of characters, the one series being ten in number, and the other twelve. I do not know the meaning of the series of ten, which runs (i) Kea, (2) Yih, (3) Ping, (4) Ting, &c. The series of twelve consists of the names of animals, (i) Rat, (2) Ox, (3) Tiger, &c. If we call the first series i, 2, 3, . . . 10, and the second series a, b, c, . . . k, in naming the years of the cycle they begin by combining the two series thus:—

1st year 1a
2nd „ 2Ь
3rd „ 3c
and so on to 10j
11th year 1h
12th „ 2k
13th „ 2a
14th „ 4b

Thus after sixty combinations you arrive again at i л, which is the first year of a new cycle.

This system is employed to express not only the years of the cycle, but also months, days, and hours. It is applied also to the points of the compass, and to any other expression of numbers in a series of ten or twelve. And the Chinese days are not grouped into weeks of seven days, with definite names, but by cycles of sixty days.[1]—[Y.]

  1. Substantially from Williams's Observations of Comets . . . from Chinese Annals, 1871.