From Round to Square (and back)

For The Emperor's Teacher, scroll down (↓) to "Topics." It's the management book that will rock the world (and break the vase, as you will see). Click or paste the following link for a recent profile of the project:

A new post appears every day at 12:05* (CDT). There's more, though. Take a look at the right-hand side of the page for over four years of material (2,000 posts and growing) from Seinfeld and country music to every single day of the Chinese lunar calendar...translated. Look here ↓ and explore a little. It will take you all the way down the page...from round to square (and back again).
*Occasionally I will leave a long post up for thirty-six hours, and post a shorter entry at noon the next day.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Calendars and Almanacs—Introduction (g)

A year ago on Round and Square (31 March 2012)—La Pensée Cyclique: Social Rhythms
Click here for the first post in the Round and Square introductory series "Calendars and Almanacs" 
[a] Shrouded RF
This is one post in a multi-part introduction to the Round and Square series "Calendars and Almanacs." Click below for the other posts in the series:
CA 1          CA 2         CA 3          CA 4          CA 5  
CA 6          CA 7         CA 8          CA 9          CA 10         CA 11

The calendar is the heart of the almanac, and it is not too grand a statement to say that there would not be anything like the number of almanacs printed throughout Chinese history (and into the present) were it not for the fact that they contain a yearly calendar, requiring the purchase of a new volume each year. It is equally true that, in the thick (eight or more centimeters) volumes, the vast majority of the material is unchanging. If the sections with red characters can be referred to as the “calendrical” sections, then “the rest”—all black and white—is the almanac. The thickest almanacs have well over forty sections, and I have compiled over fifty discrete sections in the course of buying them for twenty-five years. Their contents are diverse, but they can be broken down into a number of conceptual categories that might help readers get a sense of the sections that make up the eclectic collection that constitutes the almanac. 
As we have seen, only the calendar is made for daily consultation. All of its other contents (almost two-hundred pages) form a miscellany of cultural knowledge, divination, and advice—in no particular order.  In an essay of this length, it is impossible to give a full perspective, but several broad categories will help to give readers an idea. In time, I will post explanations for each of the fifty-plus sections in the almanac on Round and Square.

Almanac Sections—Reference
Almanacs have several yearly reference charts in the opening pages. The “Hundred Year Chart” is a kind of birth year perspective on key information according to one’s age, and assumes the traditional idea that a child is one year old at birth.  Another chart gives a contrasting “century view,” this one covering two hundred years from 1851-2050.  It is an exercise in calendrical knowledge and practical politics. Several scattered entries give a sense of this often-consulted chart’s format. (Figure C). 

          1864: Tongzhi (emperor), third year; year one (of sixty); rat.
          1865: Tongzhi (emperor), fourth year; year two (of sixty); ox—
                     intercalary fifth month.
          1911: Xuantong (emperor), third year; year forty-eight (of sixty); pig—
                    intercalary sixth month.
          1912: Republic of China, first year; year forty-nine (of sixty); rat.
          1948: Republic of China, thirty-seventh year; year twenty-five (of sixty); rat.
          1949: (three spaces blank); year twenty-six (of sixty); ox—
                     intercalary seventh month.
          1951: (new page; readjusted spacing); year twenty-eight (of sixty); rabbit.
          1976: (readjusted spacing); year fifty-three (of sixty); dragon—
                     intercalary eighth month.
          1995: (readjusted spacing); year twelve (of sixty); ox—
                     interclalary eighth month.
          2008: (readjusted spacing); year twenty-five (of sixty); rat.
          2050: (readjusted spacing); year six (of sixty); horse.

[c] 200 Year Chart
The chart seems to be a standard “just the facts” listing of historical and cultural information, but critical interpretations are built into it.  Up until 1911, it provides a listing of Qing dynasty emperors, with their actual reign years. 1911 has the barest hint of a well-known event, the 辛亥革命, Revolution of Year Forty-Eight, which brought down China’s last imperial dynasty. 1912 notes the first year of the Republic of China, and holds the same character formatting as all of the imperial names—two “name” characters followed by two “year” characters (“Republic of China, Year One”). 

The pattern breaks down in 1949 in this Hong Kong-style almanac. Instead of choosing between the Republic of China (defeated and sequestered on Taiwan) or the People’s Republic of China, as most of the world had already done when this almanac was printed in mid-2007, it leaves it blank for two awkward columns at the end of the first page (1851-1950). Moving to the columns on the right side of the page (1951-2050), the “aesthetics” have been adjusted, but there is still no mention anywhere of the People’s Republic of China, ten years after Hong Kong was returned after British rule. 
Several layers of cultural meaning are built into even a chart this simple and straightforward. The cyclical animals swirl in unchanging order through the text, as does the cycle of sixty characters. These are never adjusted, and never vary.  There also is a faithful record (and anticipation) of intercalary 閏 months for two hundred years.  For the lunar year to follow accurately the changes of the solar year, a thirteenth month must be inserted into the calendar (hence the term intercalary) from time to time.  The shorthand calculation is that there need to be seven of these insertions every nineteen years, and it is easy enough to see the breakdown in the chart above, as well as the distribution of the months. All months but the first and twelfth may have occasional intercalary additions, and all are noted in the chart. 

Intercalary months also have a “culture” of their own—and some bits are of quite recent origin. An example is 1976, which had a repeated eighth lunar month. This was the year that Zhou Enlai and Mao Zedong died. There was also a devastating earthquake.  A generation later, in 1994, China was buzzing with rumors that an ailing Deng Xiaoping would die in 1995—the first year since 1976 that the calendar announced an intercalary eighth month.  The rumors persisted, and, even though Deng lived until early 1997, a minor chord of prognostication at least temporarily took root—intercalary eighth years are times when great leaders pass on and the world rumbles.

This is one post in a multi-part introduction to the Round and Square series "Calendars and Almanacs." Click below for the other posts in the series:
CA 1          CA 2         CA 3          CA 4          CA 5  
CA 6          CA 7         CA 8          CA 9          CA 10         CA 11
[e] Rumble RF

No comments:

Post a Comment