China Travel Guide

China Guide

Chinese Agricultural Calendar

China is one of the first countries in the world to invent the calendar. The appearance of the calendar has a profound impact on the development of national economy and culture. Also called Rural Calendar or Former Calendar, Lunar Calendar is the traditional calendar of China, which is an integrated lunar-solar calendar as it embraces the movement of the moon as well as that of the Sun. Lunar calendar (Yinli in Chinese) is that based on the moon’s orbit around the Earth and Solar calendar (Yangli in Chinese) is based on the positions of the Sun through the seasons.

History of Chinese Agricultural Calendar

The Babylonians devised the earliest lunisolar calendar after approximately 2500 B.C. Although not exclusive to China, the lunisolar calendar is often referred to as the “Chinese calendar” because a fairly accurate version was perfected by the Chinese around 500 B.C, which has continued to be used in China until now.

According to Chinese legend, in 2254 B.C. the Emperor Yao ordered his astronomers to define the annual cycles of changing seasons, and during the Shang dynasty a calendar was prepared annually by a board of mathematicians under the direction of a minister of the imperial government.

Each new Chinese dynasty published a new official annual calendar, and publication of an unofficial calendar could be regarded an act of treason. 

The Emperor Wu of the Western Han dynasty (206 B.C.E. – 9 C.E.) introduced reforms that have governed the Chinese calendar ever since. The Calendar of 104 B.C.E. set the tropical year at 365.25016 days and the lunar month at 29.53086 days.

Rules of Chinese Agricultural Calendar

  • There are 12 regular months per year, numbered sequentially (1 through 12) and given other names. There is a leap month every other year or three years which may appear after any regular month. It has the same number as the previous regular month.
  • The lunar months means the first day of each month beginning at midnight which is the day of the astronomical new moon. A “day” in the Chinese calendar begins at 11 P.M. and not at midnight.
  • Every other solar term of the Chinese calendar is equivalent to an entry of the sun into a sign of the tropical zodiac.

Intercalary Months of Chinese Calendar

Lunar months are numbered rather than named. Although the intercalary month receives the same number as the preceding month (plus the prefixed character rùn ), no festivals associated with that month are repeated. The effect of inserting the intercalary months based on the error between the lunar and the solar cycles is to provide a constant correction for the misfit between the two calendars. 

Because the Chinese calendar is mainly a lunar calendar, its standard year is 354 days, whereas the astronomical year is approximately 365¼ days. Without the intercalary month, this deviation would build up over time. If the beginning of a certain month in the Chinese calendar deviates by a certain number of days from its equivalent in a solar calendar, an intercalary month needs to be inserted.

Festivals of Chinese Agricultural Calendar

Although Chinese authority firstly adopted the Western calendar in 1912, Chinese Lunar Calendar, as one of the most important carrier of Chinese culture, is still widely used among Chinese people. The dates of most of traditional festivals base on Chinese Lunar Calendar. 

There are nine main festivals of Chinese Agricultural Calendar, seven determined by the lunisolar calendar, and two derived from the solar agricultural calendar. The two special holidays are the Qingming Festival and the Winter Solstice Festival. 

Date English Name Chinese Name  Activity
The first day of the first month Spring Festival 春节 Family gathering and reunion
The fifth day of the first month Lantern Festival 元宵节 Eating Tangyuan and see lanterns
April 4 or 5 Qingming Festival 清明节 Ancestor worshiping and spring outing
The fifth day of the fifth month Dragon Boat Festival 端午节 Eating Zongzi and playing Dragon boat race
The seventh day of the seventh month Double Seven Festival 七夕节 Chinese Valentine’s Day
The fifth day of the seventh month Spirit Festival 中元节 Offering tributes and respect to the deceased
The fifth day of the eighth month Mid-Autumn Festival  中秋节 Family gathering and eating moon cake
The ninth day of the ninth month Double Ninth Festival  重阳节 Mountain climbing and showing care for the old
Dec 21, 22 or 23 Winter Solstice Festival 冬至 Family gathering 

Solar Terms of Chinese Agricultural Calendar

According to the agricultural calendar culture, Chinese people have their unique way of daily life. They created the 24 solar terms system to remark the activities in agriculture. From the names of these solar terms, farmers can immediately know what should do during this period.

Approximate Gregorian Date  English Name Chinese Name Meaning
Feb. 5 Spring Begins 立春 spring begins
Feb 19 Rains 雨水 air will start getting humid and forming rain
March 5 Insects Awaken 惊蛰 hibernating insects awaken
March 20 Vernal Equinox 春分 sun shining on equater, day and night account up same hours on this day
April 5 Clear and Bright 清明 ancestral graves are tended
April 20 Grain Rain 谷雨 rain helps grain grow
May 5 Summer Begins 立夏 most palnt have staring grow
May 21 Grain Buds 小满 grains are plump
June 6 Grain in Ear 芒种 wheat mature
June 21 Summer Solstice 夏至 sunlight shines directly on the tropic of Cancer
July 7 Slight Heat 小暑 when heat starts to get unbearable
July 23 Great Heat 大暑 the hottest time of the year
August 7 Autumn Begins 立秋 autumn begins
August 23 Heat Stops 处暑 heat withdraws
September 8 White Dews 白露 condensed moisture makes dew white; a sign of autumn
September 23 Autumn Equinox 秋分 lit. central divide of autumn
October 8 Cold Dews 寒露 dew starts turning into frost
October 23 Hoar Frost Falls 霜降 appearance of frost and descent of temperature
November 7 Winter Begins 立冬 winter begins
November 22 Light Snow 小雪 snow starts falling
December 7 Great Snow 大雪 season of snowstorms in full swing
December 21 Winter Solstice 冬至 lit. winter extreme (of sun’s height)
January 6 Slight Cold 小寒 cold starts to become unbearable
January 21 Great Cold 大寒 coldest time of year

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