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Ancient China


History for Kids >> Ancient China

Versions of the Chinese calendar have been used for thousands of years. Today the Chinese calendar is still used to mark traditional Chinese holidays, but the common Gregorian calendar (the one used by most of the rest of the world) is used for daily business in China.


The Chinese calendar was developed by many of the Chinese dynasties of Ancient China. However, it was in 104 BC during the rule of Emperor Wu of the Han Dynasty that the current calendar was defined. This calendar was called the Taichu calendar. It is the same Chinese calendar that is used today.

Animal Years

Each year in the Chinese calendar is named after an animal. For example, 2012 was the "year of the dragon". There are 12 animals that the years cycle through. Every 12 years the cycle repeats itself. The Chinese believed that, depending on which year a person was born, their personality would take on the aspects of that animal.

Here are the animals and what they mean:

Rat Ox Tiger Rabbit Dragon Snake
Horse Sheep (Goat) Monkey Rooster Dog Pig (Boar)
Legend of the Chinese Years

According to ancient Chinese legend, the order of the animals in the calendar was determined by a race. The animals raced across a river and their position in the cycle was determined by how they finished in the race. The rat won because it rode on the back of the oxen and jumped off its back at the last minute to win the race.

The Five Elements

There is a also an element for each year. There are five elements that cycle through each year. They are wood, fire, earth, metal, and water.


Major Chinese holidays still use the Chinese calendar to determine when they are celebrated. These holidays include the Chinese New Year, Lantern Festival, Boat Dragon Festival, Night of Sevens, Ghost Festival, Mid-Autumn Festival, and the Winter Solstice Festival.

Interesting Facts about the Chinese Calendar Activities

For more information on the civilization of Ancient China:

Timeline of Ancient China
Geography of Ancient China
Silk Road
The Great Wall
Forbidden City
Terracotta Army
The Grand Canal
Battle of Red Cliffs
Opium Wars
Inventions of Ancient China
Glossary and Terms

Major Dynasties
Xia Dynasty
Shang Dynasty
Zhou Dynasty
Han Dynasty
Period of Disunion
Sui Dynasty
Tang Dynasty
Song Dyanasty
Yuan Dynasty
Ming Dynasty
Qing Dynasty

Daily Life in Ancient China
Numbers and Colors
Legend of Silk
Chinese Calendar
Civil Service
Chinese Art
Entertainment and Games

Kangxi Emperor
Genghis Khan
Kublai Khan
Marco Polo
Puyi (The Last Emperor)
Emperor Qin
Emperor Taizong
Sun Tzu
Empress Wu
Zheng He
Emperors of China

Works Cited

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