Chinese New Year, Not Lunar New Year

The Chinese New Year is not Lunar New Year!! In this blog, I’ll be introducing you to the lunisolar calendar that the Chinese New Year uses and explaining why the Chinese New Year cannot be replaced by other names.

The blog does not address the traditions or culture of Chinese New Year. If you would like to learn about Chinese New Year, please proceed to Chinese New Year: Tradition and Celebrations.

Solar Calendar and Lunar Calendar

The Gregorian calendar, also known as the Christian calendar,is a solar calendar that aligns its dates based on the position of the Sun relative to the stars, effectively demarcating the changing seasons. A regular year in this calendar has 365 days, while a leap year has 366 days.

Conversely, the lunar calendar, such as the Islamic calendar, is based solely on the phases of the moon, disregarding the Earth’s revolution. It consists of a year with 354 or 355 days, making it roughly 10 or 11 days shorter than a solar year. This results in misalignment between the seasons and months in the calendar every three years.

Chinese Calendar: Lunisolar

The Chinese calendar is lunisolar, not purely lunar. It defines each year’s months based on the moon’s phases and the transitions of the four seasons. Simultaneously, it establishes the 24 solar terms through the sun’s position, also known as determining Chi定氣.

To solve the cyclical misalignment between the lunar and solar cycles, the Chinese calendar employs a practice called intercalation, referred to as “set a leap month”置閏. Intercalation is mainly adding an extra “leap month” in specific years to align the two calendars. Thus, it is possible that “Lichun 立春, Beginning of Spring” would occur twice within a single year.

Why Use Lunisolar?

The solar calendar effectively depicts the changing seasons and approximate climate, while the lunar calendar reflects lunar phases and aids in timekeeping and tide correlations. Thus, the lunisolar calendar combines these strengths in two calendars, providing essential support for agriculture, fishing, and animal husbandry in ancient agrarian societies.

One and Only Chinese New Year

Chinese New Year strictly follows the Chinese calendar, and the date is calculated based on the latitude and longitude of the Purple Mountain Observatory in Nanjing. Therefore, countries like South Korea and Vietnam, if they wish to rename Chinese New Year, please calculate the date based on their own location’s coordinates. Otherwise, it will be perceived as culture appropriation.

The English language has a long and complex history, shaped by influences such as invasion, conquest, and trade, leading to variations like Australian English, New Zealand English, and American English. Does that mean American English should be called the American language, Australian English should be called the Australian language, and New Zealand English should be called the New Zealand language? NO! They are dialects or regional forms of English. Similarly, there is only Chinese New Year, with no equivalent for Korean or Vietnamese New Year. 

Author’s Message

To those who intentionally spread misleading information and appropriate other countries’ cultures, it is important to understand that respecting the history of your country is an essential part of honoring your country’s culture. Doing so only reflects a lack of confidence in your cultural heritage.

Today is Chinese New Year Eve, Happy Chinese New Year! May you live loong and prosper :)

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