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The Ancient Chinese Calendar

By Lilly Wang
Epoch Times Staff
Created: January 30, 2011 Last Updated: April 12, 2012
Related articles: China » Culture
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A bas relief sculpture of a tiger along a wall of bas relief sculptures depicting the 12 animals of the Chinese zodiac at the White Cloud Temple in Beijing. (Frederic J. Brown/AFP/Getty Images)

A bas relief sculpture of a tiger along a wall of bas relief sculptures depicting the 12 animals of the Chinese zodiac at the White Cloud Temple in Beijing. (Frederic J. Brown/AFP/Getty Images)

Legends and mythology are a big part of Chinese culture, especially in relation to the Chinese calendar. Chinese people have every reason to be proud of those treasures, although many of them are regarded as myths by modern science.

There are three types of calendar systems: solar, lunar, and solar-lunar calendars. A solar calendar counts the time it takes for the Earth to go round the Sun once as one year. A lunar calendar uses the time that it takes the Moon to go round the Earth as one month. A lunar year is about 11 days shorter than a solar year.

The ancient Chinese calendar is a solar-lunar calendar. The months are set according to the cycles of the Moon, and the years are set according to the solar year. In order to match the months to the seasons, a leap month is created. The Chinese usually refer to the ancient Chinese calendar as the “lunar calendar.” It is also called the “agricultural calendar.”

The 12 Animals

The 12 animals on the Chinese Zodiac calendar are believed to be chosen by a god to represent 12 years, and to continue this cycle every 12 years. The order of the 12 animals is rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, rooster, dog, and pig.

The 12 animals that represent years in China include a teaching offered to ancient Chinese, enabling them to better manage time and their lives. Along with this teaching, it offered Chinese a vital way to understand human beings and our connection with the universe.

The Celestial Connection

An important aspect of the Chinese calendar is the sexagenarian cycle. This is a combination of the 10 “heavenly stems” and the 12 “earthly branches.”

The combination of the heavenly stems and earthly branches form the title for every year. Each character represents a year and runs from the first to the last, and then starts from the beginning again.

The ancient Chinese calendar represented a means for people to act appropriately to developments in nature and the cosmos and assured them a secure, happy life.

The Significance of the Calendar

The gods in ancient China were called sages in Western cultures. It was said that a Taoist god, or sage, passed on this principle: This universe is made of five elements—metal, wood, water, fire, and earth—and these elements exist in all matter within this universe. Also, there is the “yin-yang” (negative-positive) composition of all matter. So, certainly it is in every human body.

There are some ancient Chinese books that indicate the composition of the five elements and the yin-yang balance in every heavenly stem and earthly branch, and their changing patterns. For instance, when a person is born, the composition of the five elements and their “yin-yang” balance that was carried by that person is set, and it can be read by using calculations.

Source: China Competence and China Uncensored



  • Marvin Stutts

    According to the chinse zodiac callender what animal repersents the year 1962 ?

    • Ben_Chasteen

      If you were born after 5 February 1962 then it is the year of the tiger. If you were born between Jan 1-Feb 5 then it is an Ox. (Chinese New Year follows the Lunar Cycle)


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