Chinese Calendrics Software
3.  Chinese and Western Years

The calendar in common use in most countries is the Common Era Calendar, a.k.a. the Gregorian Calendar. Years in the Common Era Calendar are labelled CE, as in "2003 CE". Astronomical year numbering is used, where the years around 1 CE run as follows:

... -2 CE, -1 CE, 0 CE, 1 CE, 2 CE, ...

Here 1 BC is the same year as 0 CE, 2 BC the same year as -1 CE, and so on.

Astronomical year numbering is explained in more detail here.

This software also converts dates in the Julian Calendar; such years are labelled JC. Astronomical year numbering is also used for the Julian Calendar:

... -2 JC, -1 JC, 0 JC, 1 JC, 2 JC, ...

There are four ways to denote years in the Chinese Calendar. Three of these use cycles of 60 years:

  1. A year within a cycle may be denoted by a combination of an element name (e.g., "water") and an animal name (e.g. "rabbit"). The manner in which these element and animal names are combined to give sixty different year names is explained in Interconverting Chinese and Western Years.

  2. A year within a cycle may also be denoted by a combination of a "celestial stem" and an "earthly branch". The latter are the same as the animals. Here are the Chinese ideograms:

    The ten celestial stems The twelve earthly branches
    jia zi rat
    yi chou ox
    bing yin tiger
    ding mao rabbit (hare)
    wu chen dragon
    ji si snake
    geng wu horse
    xin wei sheep
    ren shen monkey
    gui you rooster (chicken)
      xu dog
      hai pig

    The Vietnamese Calendar substitutes "cat" for "rabbit", and "goat" for "sheep". The Japanese Calendar substitutes "boar" for "pig".

    Years in the 60-year cycle (a.k.a. the ganzhi cycle) proceed as follows: jia-zi, yi-chou, bing-yin, ..., gui-you, jia-xu, yi-hai, bing-zi, ding-chou, ..., ren-xu, gui-hai.

    In element-animal notation the 60-year cycle is: wood-rat, wood-ox, fire-tiger, fire-rabbit, ..., water-dog, water-pig.

  3. In this software years in a cycle are also numbered 1 - 60, where 1 = wood-rat, 2 = wood-ox, 3 = fire-tiger, etc. (as given in the article mentioned above).

A fourth method of denoting years is used in overseas Chinese communities. This is a linear count, according to which the year 2003 CE corresponds to the year 4701.

Years in the Chinese Calendar run concurrently with the years of the Common Era Calendar (except that the former begin a month or two before the latter), so it is clear that each year at a certain position in a certain cycle in the Chinese Calendar can be uniquely associated with a year in the Common Era Calendar provided that one such correlation is known. Actually two such correlations are used by different scholars: The year at position 1 of cycle 1 is correlated either with -2696 CE (i.e., 2697 BC) or with -2636 CE (i.e., 2637 BC). The correlation, a.k.a. the "Epoch", can be selected in the software.

This software displays Chinese solar and lunar dates showing both the position-in-cycle number and the element-animal combination corresponding to it. Years can be specified either by using the position number or by using the element-animal (as explained in the section on date conversion).

Next: The Chinese Calendars Defined
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