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The Chinese calendar has 12 or 13 lunar months per year, and is about 20 to 50 days behind the Gregorian calendar. It’s used to determine the dates of traditional Chinese festivals, like Chinese New Year and Mid-Autumn. It’s also used for Chinese zodiac astrology, and many Chinese still celebrate their Chinese calendar birthdays.
Although China uses the Gregorian (global) calendar for most official and business purposes, the Chinese calendar is still used to determine the days of traditional festivals, such as Chinese New Year and Mid-Autumn.
It is used by some for celebrating birthdays, and even for agriculture (when to plough, plant, harvest, etc.) and how Chinese view the four seasons.
The Chinese calendar is still popular among the Chinese people for Chinese zodiac horoscopes and choosing auspicious days for weddings, funerals, relocation, etc. It is also used by other East Asian countries including Korea, Vietnam, Thailand, and Japan.
There are two dates a Chinese zodiac year could be said to start on:
Most Chinese people use lunar new year as the start of the zodiac year. But for professional fortune telling, Chinese astrologers use 'Start of Spring' or solar new year as the beginning of the zodiac year.
The Chinese calendar can seem very foreign and complicated if you are new to it, but basically it just counts the moon cycles from one "spring" (Chinese New Year) to the next.
The Chinese calendar is based on lunar cycles or phases of the moon. Chinese months begin with new moon, and have a full moon on day 15. As a new moon comes roughly every 29½ days, Chinese calendar months always have 29 or 30 days.
(Days: In the Chinese calendar, a day starts at midnight, but traditionally people regarded dawn as the beginning of a day.)
China's traditional solar calendar is seldom referred to for dates, but the Chinese calendar mirrors it and includes extra lunar months to keep pace with it. The Chinese calendar is traditionally called the ‘lunar calendar' (阴历 Yīnlì /yin-lee/) to distinguish it from the traditional ‘solar calendar', and now the Gregorian calendar (阳历 yánglì /yang-lee/).The traditional solar calendar in China, like the Gregorian calendar, is based solely on the orbit of the Earth around the sun. It has 12 solar months (of 30 or 31 days - no shorter "February"), 365 days in a regular year and 366 days in a leap year. But that's where the similarities end…
Each month of China's solar calendar has two solar terms of 15 or 16 days. The 24 solar terms once governed agricultural arrangements in China. Solar terms occur on almost the same days each year on the Gregorian calendar.
The solar terms split the Chinese year into four equal length seasons (of three months or six solar terms), each centered on an equinox or solstice day. Learn more about the 24 solar terms.
As a lunar month is on average 0.92 days shorter than a "solar month", the lunar calendar is just under a day per month slower than the solar calendar.
To prevent the lunar calendar from becoming more than half a month of sync with the solar calendar, an extra "leap month" is added in the Chinese calendar every 32 or 33 months. So every second or third Chinese calendar year has 13 months and 383–385 days.
The last Chinese calendar leap month began on October 24, 2014. There were two ninth lunar months: month 9 and then "intercalary month 9" - the leap month.
The next leap month will be in 2020, when a second lunar month 4 will be observed.
A Chinese calendar date is from 15 days behind to 15 days in front of the traditional solar calendar. That's 21 to 51 days behind the corresponding Gregorian calendar date (intercalary months excepted). This can most easily be seen with Chinese New Year dates.
Chinese New Year, the first day of the first lunar month, falls strictly in the period January 21 to February 20. China's first lunar month always starts within 15 days of the start of the first solar term ‘Start of Spring', on February 5 (or the 4th or 6th).
See our China Public Holiday Schedule for other important festival dates that are according to the Chinese calendar.
Ancient Chinese people named each lunar month according to what they or nature traditionally did in that month. See below.
|1||正月||Zhēngyuè||Start Month||It starts the year.|
|2||杏月||Xìngyuè||Apricot Month||Apricot trees blossom.|
|3||桃月||Táoyuè||Peach Month||Peach trees blossom.|
|4||槐月||Huáiyuè||Locust Tree Month||Locust trees blossom.|
|5||蒲月||Púyuè||Sweet Sedge Month||Lunar month 5 day 5 is the Dragon Boat Festival, when people hang sweet sedge on doors to ward off evil spirits.|
|6||荷月||Héyuè||Lotus Month||Lotus flowers bloom.|
|7||巧月||Qiǎoyuè||Skill Month||On lunar month 7 day 7, women traditionally prayed for and showed their dexterous domestic skills.|
|8||桂月||Guìyuè||Osmanthus Month||Osmanthus flowers bloom.|
|9||菊月||Júyuè||Chrysanthemum Month||Chrysanthemum flowers bloom.|
|10||阳月||Yángyuè||Yang Month||The Taoist yang force is believed to be strong this month.|
|11||冬月||Dōngyuè||Winter Month||The winter solstice (starting the so-named solar term) is in this month.|
|12||腊月||Làyuè||Preserved Month||Chinese preserve meats ready for Spring Festival, and traditionally worship all gods and ancestors.|
Each Chinese calendar year has a Chinese zodiac animal associated with it, in a cycle of 12 animal signs: Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Goat, Monkey, Rooster, Dog, Pig. The latest 12-year cycle began on Chinese New Year 2008 with a year of the Rat.
|Name||Traditional Chinese||Simplified Chinese||Pinyin|
|The Farming Calendar||農曆||农历||Nónglì|
|The Lunar Calendar||陰曆||阴历||Yīnlì|
|The Former Calendar||舊曆||旧历||Jiùlì|
|The Traditional Calendar||老曆||老历||Lǎolì|
The Chinese calendar affects festivals, and hence the busiest times for travel in China. These are times to avoid travelling in China unless you want to take part in the festivities.
Our most recommended tours for any time on the calendar: