Chinese calendar not easy to date
Feb. 18, 2003
QUESTION: The Chinese year 4701 began this month. When did the Chinese calendar begin, and what's its significance?
ANSWER: The Chinese year 4701, the year of the sheep or goat, began Feb. 1. Working out the arithmetic, we find that 4,701 years ago, on our calendar, was 2698 B.C., or maybe 2697, depending on just when the new year was observed. According to tradition, this was the date when the legendary hero Huangdi mounted the throne.
Another system of counting, though, began in 2637 B.C., when Huangdi is said to have invented the calendar (or ordered his brilliant minister Danao to devise it), after reigning more than 60 years.
Many modern scholars believe Huangdi and his achievements are mostly mythical.
Hard archaeological evidence for the Chinese calendar goes back to the Shang Dynasty, which ruled from about 1800 to 1100 B.C.
It was only later, about the time of Christ, that scholars trying to reconstruct China's earliest history pegged their chronologies on either the accession of Huangdi or his command to create a calendar.
For more information, visit www.math.nus.edu.sg /aslaksen, or webexhibits.org /calendars/.
- Dan Kincaid/
The Arizona Republic