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Nongli: Chinese Lunar Year

Published January 22, 2023
A person poses next to a light sculpture ahead of Lunar New Year in Bangkok's Chinatown, Thailand, January 19, 2023. Photo: Reuters
A person poses next to a light sculpture ahead of Lunar New Year in Bangkok's Chinatown, Thailand, January 19, 2023. Photo: Reuters
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In China, like most of the world, the Gregorian calendar is used, which is based on the solar year, months and days, but the traditional Chinese calendar, considered to be the world’s oldest calendar, is also used. Astronomical movements are dependent on the revolutions of the sun and the moon.

The Chinese traditional calendar is used to determine the dating of holidays such as Chinese New Year / Spring Festival and the Mid-Autumn Festival and for divination, including choosing the most auspicious date for a wedding or the grand opening of a building. The primary use in day-to-day activities is for determining the phase of the moon, which is important for farmers and is possible because each day in the calendar corresponds to a particular phase of the month.

The Chinese calendar was introduced in early 14th Century BC. According to historical findings, Chinese Emperor Huang De formally promulgated the Chinese calendar in 2637 BC. Various amendments have been made to it over a period of time.

The reason for the popularity of the Chinese Lunar Calendar is that it has been divided into periods of 12-year intervals. Each year is linked to an animal according to the signs of the zodiac while the qualities of that animal are integrated into that year. The animals in the 12-year cycle of the Chinese zodiac are the Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Goat, Monkey, Rooster, Dog and the Pig. In Chinese folklore, there are numerous explanations to how these animals were selected and why in this order.

The initial purpose of the calendar was for agriculture. It was to inform the farmers when they should plant their seeds. The change in the seasons, so they knew when to start to prepare to plant the crops, time for it to grow and harvest. For a system based on agriculture, it is extremely important to know the Seasons. The Seasons can be worked out from the Winter and Summer Solstice. The shortest day and the longest day. Also, the equinoxes where the day and nights are equal.

In the Chinese calendar, days begin and end at midnight, and months begin on the day of the new moon. Years start on the second (or third) new moon after the winter solstice. Solar terms govern the beginning, middle, and end of each month. The length of a month is also annotated as either long (大, literally "big" for months with 30 days) or short (小, literally "small" for months with 29 days).

The basis of the Chinese year is a legend that the Jade Emperor (known by many names, including Heavenly Grandfather (天公, Tiān Gōng), which originally meant 'Heavenly Duke', which is used by commoners; the Jade Lord; the Highest Emperor; Great Emperor of Jade), decided to formulate the Chinese calendar. To name each of the twelve years in the cycle after an animal, the Emperor announced a race at a specific time and date. The order in which the animals would reach the finishing point would determine their position in the 12-year cycle.

The cat and the rat were both very bad at swimming, so they decided that the best and fastest way to cross the river was to hop on the back of the ox, which being kind-hearted and naive, agreed to carry them both across.

Since the cat generally oversleeps, it asked the rat to wake it up before starting for the race. The next morning, the rat decided to let the cat sleep on and miss the race. It hopped on the back of the ox. Approaching the other side, the rat jumped off the ox and rushed to the Jade Emperor, becoming the first animal of the zodiac calendar. The ox came in second. The third one to come was the tiger.

Suddenly, from a distance came a thumping sound, and the rabbit arrived. In fifth place was the flying dragon. The Jade Emperor was wondering why such a swift airborne creature such as the dragon failed to come in first.

The dragon explained that it had to stop by a village and bring rain for all the people, and therefore it was held back. The Jade Emperor was pleased at the dragon’s good nature, and it was named as the fifth animal. As soon as it had done so, a galloping sound was heard, and the horse appeared.

Clinging to its hoof was the snake, whose sudden appearance gave it a fright, thus making it fall back and giving the snake the sixth spot, while the horse was placed seventh. After a while, the goat, monkey and rooster came to the heavenly gate, floating on a raft. With combined efforts they managed to arrive on the other side.

The Jade Emperor was pleased with their teamwork and decided to name the goat as the eighth animal followed by the monkey and then the rooster. The eleventh animal placed in the zodiac cycle was the dog.

Right when the Emperor was going to close the race, an 'oink' sound was heard: it was the pig. The pig felt hungry in the middle of the race, so it stopped, ate something and then fell asleep. After it awoke, it finished the race in twelfth place and became the last animal to arrive.

Since the attributes of every animal named in the zodiac affect that particular year as well as the persons born in that particular, those qualities merit an examination.

The first animal in the Chinese zodiac is the rat (鼠Shǔ), quick-witted, smart, charming and persuasive. Ranking second, Ox (牛niú) is the symbol of diligence in Chinese culture. People under the sign of the Ox are usually hard working, honest, creative, ambitious, cautious, patient and handle things steadily.

Number three in the Chinese zodiac, Tigers (虎Hǔ) are the symbol of bravery. People born in the year of the Tiger are friendly, brave, competitive, charming and endowed with good luck and authority.

Rabbit (兔Tù) represents longevity, discretion and good luck. It has the fourth position in the Chinese Zodiac.

As the symbol of Chinese nation, dragon (龍Lónɡ) represents authority and good fortune. It has the fifth position among the Chinese zodiac animals. People born in the year of the Dragon are powerful, kind-hearted, successful, innovative, brave, healthy, courageous and enterprising.

Among the Chinese Zodiac animals, Snake (蛇Shé) has the sixth position. Snakes are regarded to be pliable. Some of the positive characteristics of the people born in the year of the Snake are wise, discreet, agile, attractive and full of sympathy.

Horse (馬Mǎ) has an indomitable spirit and is always moving toward a goal. It ranks seventh in the Chinese Zodiac. People born under the sign of the Horse are clever, active, energetic, quick-witted, fashionable, agile, popular among others and have the ability to persuade others.

Ranking the eighth position of all the animals, Sheep (also Goat or Ram) (羊Yánɡ) represents solidarity, harmony and calmness. People born in the year of the Sheep are polite, mild mannered, shy, imaginative, determined and have good taste.

Monkey (猴Hóu) ranks ninth, and is considered cheerful and energetic by nature and represents flexibility. People under the sign of the Monkey are wise, intelligent, confident, charismatic, loyal, inventive and have leadership.

Rooster ranks tenth. In Chinese culture, Rooster (雞Jī) represents fidelity and punctuality, for it wakes people up on time. People born in the year of the Rooster are beautiful, kind-hearted, hard-working, courageous, independent, humorous and honest.

Ranking as the eleventh animal in Chinese zodiac, Dog (狗Gǒu) is the symbol of loyalty and honesty. People born in the Year of the Dog possess the best traits of human nature. They are honest, friendly, faithful, loyal, smart, straightforward, venerable and have a strong sense of responsibility.

Occupying the last position in 12 Chinese Zodiac animals, Pig (猪Zhū) is mild and a lucky animal representing carefree fun, good fortune and wealth. Personality traits of the people born under the sign of the Pig are happy, easygoing, honest, trusting, educated, sincere and brave.

2023 is the Year of the Rabbit. People born under the sign of the Rabbit are kind-hearted, friendly, intelligent, cautious, skillful, gentle, quick and live long.

The year of the rabbit commenced on January 22 and is being celebrated throughout China, which is recovering from a recent wave of the global pandemic COVID-19 latest variants. We wish all Chinese a Happy Chinese Lunar Year.

The article does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Business Recorder or its owners

S. M. Hali

The writer is a retired Group Captain of PAF, and now a security analyst


Comments are closed.

Sultan Mahmood Hali Jan 22, 2023 01:30pm
Wishing all my Chinese Friends, a happy and prosperous New Year, free of disease and other trials
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