The Chinese calendar is a lunisolar calendar. This means that it uses both aspects of solar rotation and lunar phases to calculate the calendar. Because the Chinese calendar works on a different calculation system then the western Gregorian calendar, it can be difficult for many people to understand the way that the calendar is calculated.
First, it is important to understand that the months on the Chinese calendar are lunar months. This means that a new month begins on the first day of the new moon, as observed by the Purple Mountain Observatory, and each day starts at 11:00 p.m. instead of at midnight. Generally there are twelve months during the calendar year, and the New Year always begins in the second lunar pass from the Winter Solstice. Each month has either twenty-nine or thirty days, which means that the Chinese New Year falls sometime in February. If you're a teacher, then February is a great time to teach students about the Chinese calendar and culture.
Since the Chinese calendar takes into account the solar position of the earth, the calendar must be corrected every so often. This is similar to the Western calendar Leap Year correction, in which an extra day is added every four years, but the system that the Chinese use is much different. Chinese calendars run on nineteen-year cycles, and an extra month is added to the calendar seven times within the nineteen years. This is called the intercalary month.
Also, the Chinese calendar runs a sixty-year cycle, and each cycle is numbered. This means that a year referred to as the "x year" of the "y cycle". Years are also numbered, starting from 2698 BCE; this means that the western year 2009 corresponds with 4706. In addition to the numbered cycles, each year is assigned an animal to represent the year. Chinese people firmly believe in the characteristics and luck bestowed upon people born in the year of each specific animal. As you can see, all of these attributes make it difficult to easily calculate the difference between the two calendars.
The Chinese government officially adopted the Gregorian calendar for business in 1916. This means that the businesses operate on the same calendar as the Western world but the holidays and other significant events are charted according to the traditional Chinese calendar. However, many Chinese restaurants use Chinese calendars as business promotional items by printing them on placemats. Because of the wide variance in the way that the years are calculated, it can be difficult to determine the age of a Chinese person according the Gregorian calendar.
Many people put great stock in the Chinese calendar to predict the sex of a child. People sometimes try to control the sex of a child by trying to conceive on certain days or during specific periods of time. Chinese people also try to plan the time of birth in specific years so that their child may have certain characteristics or a great deal of good luck.
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