Chinese Calendar history

Chinese Calendar – Farmer’s Almanac

The official calendar used for public and business affairs today in China is the Gregorian calendar, but the civil calendar used by the Chinese is for marking traditional Chinese holidays, in astrology for choosing the most auspicious date. For example the best wedding date, career and business decisions as in opening of a building, signing contracts etc.
The Chinese calendar is often named as the “old” calendar or “nong li” (农历 the rural calendar), based on the Hsia-cheng (first formalized Chinese calendar) which follows the natural course of nature and convenient to an agrarian nation and later on referred to as the “Xia Calendar” (aka Hsia calendar).

The Xia calendar is a “Lunisolar calendar” and it takes into account the longest and shortest days, including the equinoxes where night and day are equal in length of time. A Lunisolar calendar indicates in many cultures both the moon phase, the changing sun positions and the 24 solar terms. Significant days are the Summer Solstice, Winter Solstice, and the Spring and Autumn equinoxes.

Chinese farmers initiated the 24 solar terms based on the practical needs of agriculture following the climate and natural growth of flora and fauna, and from there the practice spread to Korea, Taiwan, Vietnam and Japan. This is clearly shown in the written characters for most of them almost identical identifying the solar terms. The Solar terms are markers and some reflect the change of season and others indicate the change of climate, agricultural production, human life, food and so on, thus creating the birth of traditions as in festivals and customs celebration

The 24 Solar Terms Source:

Beside the need to have a written agricultural calendar, the farmers also memorized each period by heart singing the song of Solar Terms.
The “Song of Solar Terms” (節氣歌; pinyin: jiéqìgē)

春雨驚春清穀天 chūn yǔ jīng chūn qīng gǔ tiān,
夏滿芒夏暑相連 xià mǎn máng xià shǔ xiāng lián,
秋處露秋寒霜降 qiū chù lù qiū hán shuāng jiàng,
冬雪雪冬小大寒 dōng xuě xuě dōng xiǎo dà hán.
每月兩節不變更 měi yuè liǎng jié bù biàn gēng,
最多相差一兩天 zùi duō xiāng chā yī liǎng tiān
上半年來六、廿一 shàng bàn nián lái liù, niàn yī
下半年是八、廿三 xià bàn nián shì bā, niàn sān

For many centuries the twenty-four hour solar terms have been precisely recorded and offer clear guidelines for successful agriculture activities all held in a book named 通胜 TongShu or TongShing (pinyin or cantonese pronounciation) or simply referred as Chinese Farmer’s almanac. The latest edited version was done during Qing dynasty, it’s central function is to calculate time together with information on the auspicious or inauspicious dates to carry daily or specific activities. Based on specific information it is often consulted as a divination guide by Feng Shui practioners and Destiny Diviners together with other fortune-telling practices.

Read more related stories and insight on festivals, events, tradition and customs in the following posts.