<Previous Section>
<Next Section>

Appendix II. The Han Dynasty's Earlier Calendar

In ancient times, several calendars were used in China. Months were always counted from new moon to new moon, a month occupying the time of a lunation, but the year did not always begin at the same period. For astronomical purposes, months were numbered by the twelve horary characters, beginning with the month which normally contains the winter solstice. The calendar anciently used in the feudal state of Chin, said to be that of the legendary Hsia dynasty, put the first month in the third 寅 astronomical month. The Yin calendar, used in the state of Sung, began the year one month earlier, putting New Year's day in the second 丑 astronomical month. The royal calendar of the Chou dynasty began the year one month earlier, New Year's day coming in the first astronomical 子 month. (Cf. H. Maspero, La Chine antique, pp. 222-223.) The Ch'in dynasty put New Year's day one month farther forward, into the twelfth 亥 astronomical month. The early Han rulers continued this practise, until, in 104 B.C., the Han Emperor Wu put New Year's day back to the period it occupied in the Hsia calendar, in the third 寅 astronomical month, where it stayed (with unimportant exceptions) until the time of the Chinese Republic. (For a fuller account, cf. Havret, in the T'oung Pao, vol. 8, p. 399.)

The SC and HS were both written after the Han calendar reform in 104 B.C., but they record events occurring at a time when the year began three months earlier than at the time they were writing. Which calendar did they use? What names did they give to the months, those in use in later Han or in Ch'in times?

The true answer to the above questions is a very peculiar one: the Ch'in dynasty kept the same names (numbers) for the months as those used in Hsia (and later Han) times, but merely shifted the date of New Year's day and the attendant official ceremonies. That is, the Ch'in dynasty made New Year's day occur in the month which they called the "tenth" month, so that the month which they called the "first month" was the fourth in order from the beginning of the official year! The Han Emperor Wu merely restored New Year's day to the beginning of what he and his predecessors had been calling the "first" 正 month, but which month had not previously begun the year.

The existence of such an anomalous calendar as one beginning with the "tenth" month is so unnatural that only quite conclusive evidence should make us accept it. This evidence is even more important because Yen Shih-ku (581-645 A.D.), the outstanding commentator on the HS, contradicts our view---he said that the Ch'in dynasty had really called the month with which their year began the "first" month, and numbered the months consecutively beginning with that one; and that the authors of the SC and HS had changed the names of the months to correspond to the different names given them in Han times after the calendrical reform. The evidence for the contrary view is presented below:

I. In the first place, there is ample evidence from the SC, HS, and other documents to show that in Ch'in and early Han times the year did actually begin with what the historians called the "tenth" month and that the "first" month was the fourth in the order of the months. Since exactly three months are reckoned to a season, the Ch'in calendar then made the year begin with the first month of autumn and made the "first" month begin the spring season. The pertinent points in the following passages are accordingly: the order of the months in the year, the seasons at which certain months come, and the month and season in which official ceremonies occurred. Italics are mine.

a. In chap. 5 of the SC we read (cf. Mh. II, 91): "In the 48th year of King Chao-hsiang, in the tenth month, [the state of] Han(h) offered [to Ch'in the city of] Yüan-yung. The army of Ch'in was divided into three armies. . . . In the first month, the troops were disbanded." Note that in the same year, the "first" month comes after the "tenth" month.

b. In the monthly tables of the SC (chap. 16; cf. Mh III, 59) during the second year of the Second Emperor, the months are enumerated beginning with the tenth month, next the eleventh and twelfth months, and then only the first month. It is here called the 端月, for 正 was tabooed, since it was the personal name of the First Emperor.

c. In chap. 8 of the SC (cf. Mh II, 393) we read, "In the tenth month of the tenth year [of Kao-tsu], Ch'ing Pu, King of Huai-nan, P'eng Yüeh, King of Liang, Lu Wan, King of Yen, Liu Chia, King of Ching, Liu Chiao, King of Ch'u, Liu Fei, King of Ch'i, Wu Jei, King of Ch'ang-sha, all came to court at the Ch'ang-lo Palace. In the spring and summer, nothing [of note] happened. In the seventh month, the Grand Emperor died at the Yo-yang Palace." The great court reception at the beginning of the official year then occurred in the tenth month, which was in winter, for spring came afterwards.

d. In the HS, 4: 15b f, we read, "In the spring of the fifteenth year, a yellow dragon appeared at Ch'eng-chi. The Emperor issued an edict ordering a discussion of a sacrifice in the suburbs. . . . In the fourth month, in the summer, the emperor visited Yung and then first sacrificed to the I Five Emperors." Since the SC says that in ancient times the sacrifice to the Five Emperors was always made in the summer, the fourth month came in summer; hence the first month came in the spring.

e. In HS 6: 6b we read, "In the fourth year [of the period Yüan-kuang (131 B.C.)] Tou-yin, the Marquis of Wei-chi, who had committed a crime, was executed publicly. In the spring, the third month, on the day yi-mao, the Lieutenant Chancellor [T'ien] Fen died." But the SC 107: 12b, says, "On the last days of the twelfth month, [the Marquis of Wei-chi] was sentenced to be publicly executed in the market-place in Wei-ch'eng. In that spring the Marquis of Wu-an [the chancellor] died of illness." Then the execution occurred before the spring, according to the HS, and in the twelfth month, according to the SC; the death occurred in the spring and in the third month.

f. In SC 16: 9b, 10a, b, 12a we read, "[In the first year of the state of Han(s)], in the first month, Hsiang Yu divided Kuan-chung. . . . The second month was the beginning of the [reign of] the King of Han(s), the former Lord of P'ei. . . . In the third month he made Nan-cheng his capital." Now in 22: 1b we read, "In the first year of the Emperor Kao-tsu, in the Spring, the Lord of P'ei became the King of Han(s) and went to Nan-ch'eng." Thus the first, second, and third months came in spring.

g. In chap. 25 of the SC, the explanation of the twelve musical tubes begins with the tenth month (cf. Mh III, 303), "Among the sonorous tubes, [it, i.e. the tenth month, corresponds to] the Yin-chung." The explanation proceeds month by month, and ends with the ninth month (cf ibid. 313), "Among the musical tubes, [it, i.e. the ninth month, corresponds to] the Wu-yi." Thus the order of the tubes follows that of the official year, from the tenth to the ninth month.

h. In HS 90: 7b, 8a, b we read, "When Wang Wen-shu . . . became the administrator of Ho-nei, . . . by the end of the twelfth month, in all the commandery there was not a thief to make any dogs bark. Those few [thieves] whom he did not catch and who fled to neighboring commanderies, he pursued. Meanwhile spring had come. [Wang] Wen-shu stamped his feet and sighed, `Alas! If the winter months should be prolonged one more month, it would be sufficient [for my task].' . . . The Emperor considered him an able [person] and promoted him to be Palace Military Commander." Now according to HS 19B: 18b, he was appointed Palace Military Commander in 119 B.C., 15 years before the reform of the calendar. In his time, the twelfth month came in winter.

i. In the Book of Rites, chap. 17, p. 4a we find the following, "In the third month of autumn 季秋. . , it was [ordered] that the nobles should unify their practises and customs and that [the officials of] all the districts [should come] to receive [instructions for their government] at [the grand reception] on the first day of the month in the coming year." The commentary tells us that this passage refers to Ch'in practises. Since the great court reception was held on New Year's day, that festival came in winter.

j. In the HS 1B: 17a we read, "In the eleventh year . . . the second month, an imperial edict said, . . . `The vassal kings and marquises shall regularily pay court and make offerings in the tenth month." The reference is again to the grand court reception on New Year's day, here stated to occur in the tenth month.

k. In HS 4: 6b we read, In the third month of the first year, "an edict said, `Now it is the time of spring, when [nature is] harmonious, and the plants and trees are all growing, when things all have means of enjoying themselves." Then the third month was in spring. But cf. p. 236, n. 4.

l. In HS 6:26a we read, In the first year of the period Yüan-feng (110 B.C.) "an imperial edict read, `Let the tenth month [begin] the first year of the [period] Yüan-feng.' " Hence the year began with the tenth month. (Altho the word `begin' is not actually in the text, the passage plainly implies it.)

m. In chap. 15 of the SC we read, "In the thirty-seventh year, in the tenth month, on the day kuei-ch'ou [Nov. 1, 211 B.C.], the First Emperor went out on a trip. [cf. Mh II, 184] . . . [In the seventh month] . . . on the ping-yin day, the First Emperor died in the P'in terrace at Sha-ch'iu . . . In the ninth month the First Emperor was buried in Mt. Li" (cf ibid. 193). In Chap. 15 of the SC (Chavannes did not translate this passage), it reads, "The first year of the Second Emperor. In the tenth month, on the day wu-yin [an edict was issued ordering] a general freeing of criminals. In the eleventh month, he made the Rabbit park. In the twelfth month, he went to the O-fang Palace. In the ninth month of that year the commanderies and districts all rebelled." Thus the historians began a year with the tenth month and ended it with the ninth month. There are many such passages.

n. In the HS 4: 9a (cf. Mh II, 461), we read, "In the eleventh month [of the second year], on the day kuei-mao [Jan. 2, 180 B.C.] the last day of the month, there was an eclipse [Oppolzer's no. 2447]. The imperial edict read: . . . `Since on the last day of the eleventh month there was an eclipse---a reproach that was seen in the heavens---how great must the calamity be!' " In this passage too events in the tenth month are recorded as preceding this one and events in the first month follow it.

o. The SC 96: 5a (HS 42: 5a), tells that when Chang Ts'ang was I Lieutenant Chancellor, he advised that because Kao-tsu arrived at Pa-shang (cf. HS 1A: 19b) in the tenth month, and was consequently considered to have overthrown the Ch'in dynasty in that month, the date of New Year's day should not be changed from the date set by the Ch'in dynasty. Thus the conquest of Ch'in was commemorated by continuing New Year's day on the date of his conquest. In the same chapter we read, "It was ordered that all the kings and marquises should always appear at court and make presentations in the tenth month." The same statement appears in SC chap. 99 and HS chap. 43. Hence the early Han tenth month was the same as the Ch'in tenth month. An interesting confirmation is found in the HHS, chap. 14, where it says that on the first day of each month and at the beginning of the year a great court was held at which presents and congratulations were received (from the nobles); the officials (however) congratulated (with presents) in the first month. In chap. 16 of the HHS it says "The reason that of all the first days of the months, only on the first day of the tenth month did they follow the former custom, was because in that month Kao-tsu subjugated the Ch'in dynasty and began the first year of his reign."

p. In the SC and the HS (before 104 B.C.) the intercalary month is always called the "later ninth month" 後九月. (Since twelve lunations do not make quite a solar year, every two or three years an extra, intercalary month was added). After the calendrical reform in 104 B.C., the intercalary month was inserted at various times of the year to keep the seasons occurring in the proper months. The only adequate reason for the intercalary month always previously coming after the ninth month is that thus it was put at the end of the year.

II. The foregoing passages amply prove that in Ch'in and early Han times the year began with what was later called the "tenth" month. But did the historians change the names of the months, as Yen Shih-ku said they did? We have already had evidence that such was not the case: passages j, k, l, and o quote imperial edicts which fix the months in the same seasons as those they later occurred in. The cyclical characters in passages e,m, and n enable us to check the dates; for, with a sixty day cycle, the same characters would not reappear in a month that came three months later. There is also the evidence furnished by the following passages:

q. In HS 6:31b we read, "In the fifth month, in the summer, [in the first year of the (period) T'ai-ch'u (104 B.C.)], the calendar was corrected, making the first 正 month begin the year." If the months had previously been numbered from the beginning of the official year, the record should have been different, something like the following: The calendar was corrected, making the fourth month the first month. The wording of the HS shows that previously the "first" month did not begin the year.

r. The great scholar Chia Yi, who lived 200-168 B.C. (before the calendrical reform) wrote a poem which is reproduced in his biography in the SC chap. 84 and HS chap. 48. In that poem the word for summer occurs in the rime, so that the historian could not have changed it, and it is coupled with the cyclical characters for the day: "In the year Shan-o 單閼 in the fourth month, in the first month of summer, on the day keng-tzu, when the sun was setting, an owl perched in my house." The naming of the year as the fourth in the twelve year cycle enables us to identify it as 174 B.C. If the months were numbered beginning with the astronomical twelfth month (in which New Year's day then occurred), the fourth month would have been the first month of spring, not summer. The cyclical character also enables us to identify the month, for we know the cyclical character for the day of the calendrical reform, 19 years later, and a simple calculation (cf. Chinese Social and Political Science Review, vol. 18, p. 166) enables us to determine the characters for the days of each month in the year the poem refers to. The day keng-tzu could not have come in the fourth month after New Year's day of that year; but it could have come in the seventh month after New Year's day, which Chia Yi called the "fourth" month. Then the "fourth" month occurred in summer and contemporary writers numbered the month in which New Year's day came as the "tenth" month.

s. Liu An, King of Huai-nan, committed suicide in 123-2 B.C., before the reform of the calendar. In his chapter on astronomy he writes (I confess that I do not altogether understand the passage), "The cycle of the universe begins with the first month 正月 which is the third astronomical month 建寅 when the sun and moon have both entered five degrees into the [constellation] Ying-shih [ α, β Pegasus]." Here he says plainly that the "first" month is the third astronomical month, not the twelfth astronomical month, with which the Ch'in and early Han dynasty began the year.

t. In the same book he tells that Mercury appears near the constellations Andromeda and Aries at the spring equinox in the second month, near Gemini and Cancer at the summer solstice in the fifth month, near Virgo at the autumn equinox in the eighth month, and near Sagitarious and Capricornus at the winter solstice in the eleventh month. Elsewhere in the book he gives the positions of the sun among the constellations for the twelve months of the year. Allowing for the precession of the equinoxes, those positions are the same as for the months called by I the same names in Ch'ing times, altho the book was written before the calendar reform.

u. A stone inscription known as 漢趙璲羣臣上醻刻石 found on a hill near Han-tan, has inscribed on it the date ping-yin in the eighth month of the twenty-second year of the kingdom of Chao (B.C. 158). This is a contemporary record made before the correction of the calendar. If the months had been counted beginning with New Year's day, the eighth month could not have contained a ping-yin day at all.

There is thus ample proof that the Ch'in and early Han dynasties used a curious calendar in which New Year's day and the official celebrations connected therewith came in what they called the "tenth" month, and that the reform in 104 B.C. did not change the names of the months, but merely shifted the date for New Year's day, altho a court celebration was continued to be held on the first days of the tenth month, because that date commemorated the founding of the dynasty. Hence the SC and the HS use the same names for the months as those used in Ch'in and Han times, which were the same as those in use in the time their authors wrote.

The foregoing evidence has been mostly collected by Wang Yin-chih (1766-1834; Giles no. 2252); his famous reply to Yen Shih-ku is transcribed in Wang Hsien-ch'ien's Ch'ien-Han-shu Pu-chu, chap. 1, pt. A, pp. 23-26. Wang Hsien-ch'ien himself added material; further significant material is found in a paper by Chen Chin-sien, "The Anomalous Calendars of the Ch'in and Han Dynasties" in the Chinese Social and Political Science Review for July 1934, vol. 18, p. 157 ff.

<Previous Section>
<Next Section>
IATHPublished by The Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities, © Copyright 2003 by Anne Kinney and the University of Virginia