calendars and almanacs

The Chinese lunar-solar calendar (liri or lishu, nongli or huangli) is one of the few calendars in the world with a history dating back more than 2,000 years. It was first inscribed on bamboo slips and wooden strips in the third century AD, and from the fifth century onwards it was written on paper. During the ninth and tenth centuries, it acquired the form and content that we know today, as perfectly illustrated by the calendars found among documents at Dunhuang.
However, this continuity is not without variations or modifications. Two radical changes took place, one at the founding of the Republic in 1912 and the other after the establishment of the People’s Republic of China in 1949. The Republican government officially adopted the Western calendar, with its system of weeks, running parallel to the traditional Chinese calendar. Mao Zedong’s government, with its policy of eradicating all forms of ‘superstitions’, removed the almanac aspect of the calendar, i.e. the day-by-day indication of auspicious or inauspicious activities.
This aim of placing the calendar on a ‘scientific’ basis did not go unchallenged. The producer of a 1953 calendar, published with the permission of the local authorities in Hunan, pleading that the calendars contained many popular traditions, mostly retained for daily activities, those elements concerned with agricultural work. The calendar is peppered with political slogans: ‘Let us eagerly apply ourselves to production, increasing our strength for the struggle against the Americans and for supporting the Koreans’ (during the Korean War); ‘Let us plant more valuable crops like cotton, hemp tea…’ or ‘Let us increase production and economize in order to reinforce the defence of our country’ (to prove the revolutionary spirit of the author).
With the economic liberalization of the 1980s, traditional calendars and modernized calendars began to appear simultaneously. In 2002, two types of daily almanacs are now available in Beijing bookshops, both using the Western calendar as a base, but indicating the concordance with the Chinese calendar and its twenty-four solar periods (ershisi jieqi). The traditional type of daily almanac, imported from Taiwan or Hong Kong, following a long line of traditional almanacs, indicates auspicious days for various activities (marriage, building, travel, business transactions, social events), auspicious and inauspicious times of day (jishi), and the location of auspicious spirits (jishen), and so forth. The modern calendar, printed in Hubei province, is more ‘politically correct’. Although it retains a few traditional festivals (e.g. Chinese New Year Festival, Lantern Festival, Dragon-Boat Festival, Mid-Autumn Festival), it also takes care to include Western holidays (e.g. Christmas, New Year’s Day, Valentine’s Day), national holidays (e.g. Youth Day on 4 May; Founding of the People’s Liberation Army on 1 August; Teachers’ Day on 10 September; National Holiday on 1 October), and international days (e.g. Workers’ Day on 1 May; Children’s Day on 1 June). The picture would not be complete without a mention of the wholesale introduction of ‘memorial days’ (nianri), recalling both the most important events of the People’s Republic (the demonstrations on 11 October 1911; the foundation of the CCP on 1 July 1921; the victory over the Japanese on 3 September 1945) and famous Communist personalities (birth and death days of Marx, Lenin, Sun Yatsen, Lu Xun, Stalin, Liu Shaoqi, Zhu De, Zhou Enlai and Mao Zedong). This new calendar is also embellished with recipes and advice on diet, hygiene and fashion.
See also: Buddhist calendar; divination and fortune-telling; holidays (Western)
Morgan, Carole (1980). Le Tableau du boeuf du Printemps. Etude d’une page de l’almanach chinois. Paris: Collège de France, Institut des Hautes Études Chinoises.
Smith, Richard J. (1992). Chinese Almanacs. Hong Kong: Oxford University Press.
ALAIN ARRAULT

Encyclopedia of contemporary Chinese culture. . 2011.

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