Traditional Chinese timekeeping

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Explanatory Chart for Chinese time

The traditional Chinese time systems refers to the time standards for divisions of the day used in China until the introduction of the Shixian calendar in 1628 at the beginning of the Qing dynasty.[1] [2]

Han-era system[edit]

The third chapter of the Huainanzi outlines 15 hours during daylight. These are dawn (晨明), daybreak (朏明), morning (旦明), early meal (早食; 蚤食), feast meal (宴食), before noon (隅中), noon (正中), short shadow (少还; 小還), evening (𫗦时; 餔時), long shadow (大还; 大還), high setting (高舂), lower setting(下舂), sunset (县东; 縣車), twilight (黄昏; 黃昏), rest time (定昏). [3] These are correlated to each hour from 06:00 to 20:00 on the 24-hour clock.

East Han to Ming system[edit]

This system used two standards to measure the time in a solar day. Times during daylight were measured in the Shí-kè standard, and at night were measured using the Gēng-diǎn standard.

Stems & Branches in traditional Chinese time
Heavenly stems Earthly branches
Stem Gēng Branch Shí
(traditional)
Shí
(Song dynasty)
1 jiǎ 19:12 yīgēng 1 23:00 00:00
2 21:36 èrgēng 2 chǒu 01:00 02:00
3 bǐng 00:00 sāngēng 3 yín 03:00 04:00
4 dīng 02:24 sìgēng 4 mǎo 05:00 06:00
5 04:48 wǔgēng 5 chén 07:00 08:00
6 07:12 morning 6 09:00 10:00
7 gēng 09:36 midmorning 7 11:00 12:00
8 xīn 12:00 noon 8 wèi 13:00 14:00
9 rén 14:24 late afternoon 9 shēn 15:00 16:00
10 guì 16:48 evening 10 yǒu 17:00 18:00
11 19:00 20:00
12 hài 21:00 22:00

During daylight: Shí-kè[edit]

The Shí-kè ( - ) system is derived from the position of the sun.

Dual hour: Shí[edit]

Each shí (; ) was ​112 of the time between one midnight and the next,[2] making it roughly double the modern hour. These dual hours are named after the earthly branches in order, with midnight in the first shí. This first shí traditionally occurred from 23:00 to 01:00 on the 24-hour clock, but was changed during the Song dynasty so that it fell from 00:00 to 02:00.[2]

Starting from the end of the Tang Dynasty into the Song Dynasty, each shí was divided into two, with the first half of each shí called the initial hour () and the second called the central hour ().[2] Using the change of the midnight hour and the first shí above, you could say that during the Song Dynasty midnight went from the central hour of the first shí () to the initial hour of the first shí ().

One-hundredth of a day: Kè[edit]

Days were also divided into smaller units, called (). One was usually defined as ​1100 of a day until 1628, though there were short periods before then where days had 96, 108 or 120 .[2] literally means "mark" or "engraving", referring to the marks placed on sundials[4] or water clocks[5] to help keep time.

Using the definition of as ​1100 of a day, each is equal to 0.24 hours, 14.4 minutes, or 14 minutes 24 seconds. Every shí will contain 8​13 , with 7 or 8 full and partial beginning and/or ending . These fractional are multiples of ​16 , or 2 minutes 24 seconds.[a] The 7 or 8 full within each shí were referred to as "major " (大刻). Each ​16 of a was called a "minor " (小刻).[6]

Describing the time during daylight[edit]

Both shí and would be used to describe the time accurately. There are two ways of doing this.

  1. Eight mode. Before the Tang dynasty, the shí were noted first, then each of the major were counted up to 8. [6]
    1. As an example, counting by major from the first shí to the second would look like this: ,() zǐ 1 kè, (子一刻) zǐ 2 kè,(子二刻) zǐ 3 kè, (子三刻) zǐ 4 kè, (子四刻) zǐ 5 kè, (子五刻) zǐ 6 kè, (子六刻), zǐ 7 kè, (子七刻) zǐ 8 kè, (子八刻) chǒu. ().
    2. Given the time xū 1 kè, this would be read as "1 after xū shí", making the time 20:09:36.
  2. Four mode. After the Tang dynasty's introduction of "initial" and "central" parts of the shí, the shí was still noted first, but with an added description of which half of the shí the was taking place in. Since this narrowed the range of the possible major down to four, it was only necessary to specify the major between one and four.[6]
    1. This would change our first example above to look like this: zǐ initial, (子初) zǐ initial 1 kè , (子初一刻) zǐ initial 2 kè, (子初二刻) zǐ intial 3 kè, (子初三刻) zǐ intial 4 kè, (子初四刻) zǐ central[b], (子正) zǐ central 1 kè, (子正一刻) zǐ central 2 kè, (子正二刻) zǐ central 3 kè, (子正三刻) zǐ central 4 kè, (子正四刻) chǒu initial. (丑初)
    2. Given the time sì central 3 kè, this would be read as "the third in the second half of ", making the time 11:31:12.

Smaller time units[edit]

Fēn[edit]

were subdivided into smaller units, called fēn (). The number of fēn in each varied over the centuries,[2] but a fēn was generally defined as ​16000 of a day. [6] Using this definition, there are 60 fēn in a ​1100-day major , and a fēn is ​160 of a major . In a minor , there are only 10 fēn. One fēn is equal to 14.4 seconds.

Miǎo[edit]

In 1280, Guo Shoujing's Shòushí Calendar (授时曆) calendar subdivided each fēn into 100 miǎo ().[7]. Using the definition of fēn as 14.4 seconds, each miǎo was 144 milliseconds long.

Shùn & Niàn[edit]

Each fen was subdivided into shùn (), and shùn were subdivided into niàn ().

The Mahāsāṃghika, translated into Chinese as the Móhēsēngzhī Lǜ (Taishō Tripiṭaka 1425) describes several units of time, including shùn or shùnqǐng (瞬頃; "blink moment") and niàn. According to this text, niàn is the smallest unit of time at 18 milliseconds and a shùn is 360 milliseconds.[8] It also describes larger units of time, including a tánzhǐ (彈指) which is 7.2 seconds long, a luóyù (羅豫) which is 2 minutes 24 seconds long, and a xūyú (須臾), which is ​130 of a day at 48 minutes long.[c]

During night: Gēng-diǎn system[edit]

The Gēng-diǎn ( - ) system uses predetermined signals to define the time during the night.

One-tenth of a day: Gēng[edit]

Gēng () is a time signal given by drum or gong. The drum was sounded by the drum tower in city centers, and by night watchman hitting a gong in other areas.[citation needed] The character for gēng , literally meaning "rotation" or "watch", comes from the rotation of watchmen sounding these signals.

The first gēng theoretically comes at sundown, but was standardized to fall at yǒu shí central 1 kè , or 19:12. The time between gēng is ​110 of a day, coming every 2.4 hours, or 2 hours 24 minutes.

The 5 gēngs in the night are numbered from one to five: yī gēng () (alternately chū gēng (初更) for "initial watch"); èr gēng (二更); sān gēng (三更); sì gēng (四更); and wǔ gēng (五更). The 5 gēngs in daytime are named after times of day listed in the Book of Sui, which describes the legendary Yellow Emperor dividing the day and night into ten equal parts. They are morning (); midmorning, (); noon, (); afternoon (); and evening (). [9]

As a 10-part system, the gēng are strongly associated with the 10 celestial stems, especially since the stems are used to count off the gēng during the night in Chinese literature.[9]

One-sixtieth of a day: Diǎn[edit]

Diǎn (; ), or point, marked when the bell time signal was rung. The time signal was released by the drum tower or local temples.[citation needed]

Each diǎn or point is ​160 of a day, making them 0.4 hours, or 24 minutes, long. Every sixth diǎn falls on the gēng, with the rest evenly dividing every gēng into 6 equal parts.

Describing the time during the night[edit]

Gēng and diǎn were used together to precisely describe the time at night.

Counting from the first gēng to the next would look like this: yīgēng, yīgēng 1 diǎn, yīgēng 2 diǎn, yīgēng 3 diǎn, yīgēng 4 diǎn, yīgēng 5 diǎn, èrgēng.
Given the time sāngēng 2 diǎn, you would read it as "two diǎn after sāngēng", and find the time to be 00:48[d].

The night length is inconsistent during a year. The nineteenth volume of the Book of Sui says that at the winter solstice, a day was measured to be 60% night, and at the summer solstice, only 40% night.[10] The official start of night thus had a variation from 0 to 1 gēng.

This variation was handled in different ways. From the Western Han dynasty to 102 AD, yīgēng was moved back one every 9th day from the winter solstice to the summer solstice, and moved forward one every 9th day from summer solstice to the winter solstice.[10] The Xia Calendar (夏历; 夏曆), introduced in 102 AD, added or subtracted a to the start of night whenever the sun moved 2.5° north or south from its previous position.[10]

Traditional units in context[edit]

Relationships between traditional Chinese time units
Diǎn 00:00:00
Sāngēng
00:24:00
Sāngēng 1 diǎn
00:48:00
Sāngēng 2 diǎn
01:12:00
Sāngēng 3 diǎn
01:36:00
Sāngēng 4 diǎn
02:00:00
Sāngēng 5 diǎn
02:24:00
Sìgēng
02:48:00
Sìgēng 1 diǎn
03:12:00
Sìgēng 2 diǎn
03:36:00
Sìgēng 3 diǎn
04:00:00
Sìgēng 4 diǎn
04:24:00
Sìgēng 5 diǎn
04:48:00
Wǔgēng
05:12:00
Wǔgēng 1 diǎn
05:36:00
Wǔgēng 2 diǎn
06:00:00
Wǔgēng 3 diǎn
06:24:00
Wǔgēng 4 diǎn
06:48:00
Wǔgēng 5 diǎn
07:12:00
Morning
07:36:00
Morning 1 diǎn
08:00:00
Morning 2 diǎn
08:24:00
Morning 3 diǎn
08:48:00
Morning 4 diǎn
09:12:00
Morning 5 diǎn
09:36:00
Midmorning
10:00:00
Midmorning 1 diǎn
10:24:00
Midmorning 2 diǎn
10:48:00
Midmorning 3 diǎn
11:12:00
Midmorning 4 diǎn
11:36:00
Midmorning 5 diǎn
12:00:00
Noon
12:24:00
Noon 1 diǎn
12:48:00
Noon 2 diǎn
13:12:00
Noon 3 diǎn
13:36:00
Noon 4 diǎn
14:00:00
Noon 5 diǎn
14:24:00
Afternoon
14:48:00
Afternoon 1 diǎn
15:12:00
Afternoon 2 diǎn
15:36:00
Afternoon 3 diǎn
16:00:00
Afternoon 4 diǎn
16:24:00
Afternoon 5 diǎn
16:48:00
Evening
17:12:00
Evening 1 diǎn
17:36:00
Evening 2 diǎn
18:00:00
Evening 3 diǎn
18:24:00
Evening 4 diǎn
18:48:00
Evening 5 diǎn
19:12:00
Yīgēng
19:36:00
Yīgēng 1 diǎn
20:00:00
Yīgēng 2 diǎn
20:24:00
Yīgēng 3 diǎn
20:48:00
Yīgēng 4 diǎn
21:12:00
Yīgēng 5 diǎn
21:36:00
Èrgēng
22:00:00
Èrgēng 1 diǎn
22:24:00
Èrgēng 2 diǎn
22:48:00
Èrgēng 3 diǎn
23:12:00
Èrgēng 4 diǎn
23:36:00
Èrgēng 5 diǎn
Gēng 00:00:00
Sāngēng
02:24:00
Sìgēng
04:48:00
Wǔgēng
07:12:00
Morning
09:36:00
Midmorning
12:00:00
Noon
14:24:00
Afternoon
16:48:00
Evening
19:12:00
Yīgēng
21:36:00
Èrgēng
Kè (only major kè) 00:00:00 00:14:24 00:28:48 00:43:12 00:57:36 01:12:00 01:26:24 01:40:48 01:55:12 02:09:36 02:24:00 02:38:24 02:52:48 03:07:12 03:21:36 03:36:00 03:50:24 04:04:48 04:19:12 04:33:36 04:48:00 05:02:24 05:16:48 05:31:12 05:45:36 06:00:00 06:14:24 06:28:48 06:43:12 06:57:36 07:12:00 07:26:24 07:40:48 07:55:12 08:09:36 08:24:00 08:38:24 08:52:48 09:07:12 09:21:36 09:36:00 09:50:24 10:04:48 10:19:12 10:33:36 10:48:00 11:02:24 11:16:48 11:31:12 11:45:36 12:00:00 12:14:24 12:28:48 12:43:12 12:57:36 13:12:00 13:26:24 13:40:48 13:55:12 14:09:36 14:24:00 14:38:24 14:52:48 15:07:12 15:21:36 15:36:00 15:50:24 16:04:48 16:19:12 16:33:36 16:48:00 17:02:24 17:16:48 17:31:12 17:45:36 18:00:00 18:14:24 18:28:48 18:43:12 18:57:36 19:12:00 19:26:24 19:40:48 19:55:12 20:09:36 20:24:00 20:38:24 20:52:48 21:07:12 21:21:36 21:36:00 21:50:24 22:04:48 22:19:12 22:33:36 22:48:00 23:02:24 23:16:48 23:31:12 23:45:36
Shí (post-Tang) 00:00:00
Zǐ initial
01:00:00
Zǐ central
02:00:00
Chǒu initial
03:00:00
Chǒu central
04:00:00
Yín initial
05:00:00
Yín central
06:00:00
Mǎo initial
07:00:00
Mǎo central
08:00:00
Chén initial
09:00:00
Chén central
10:00:00
Sì initial
11:00:00
Sì central
12:00:00
Wǔ initial
13:00:00
Wǔ central
14:00:00
Wèi initial
15:00:00
Wèi central
16:00:00
Shēn initial
17:00:00
Shēn central
18:00:00
Yǒu initial
19:00:00
Yǒu central
20:00:00
Xū initial
21:00:00
Xū central
22:00:00
Hài initial
23:00:00
Hài central
Shí (ancient) 00:00:00
Zǐshí
01:00:00
Chǒushí
03:00:00
Yínshí
05:00:00
Mǎoshí
07:00:00
Chénshí
09:00:00
Sìshì
11:00:00
Wǔshí
13:00:00
Wèishí
15:00:00
Shēnshí
17:00:00
Yǒushí
19:00:00
Xūshí
21:00:00
Hàishí
23:00:00
Zǐshí

Modern applications[edit]

Chinese still uses characters from these systems to describe time, even though China has changed to the UTC standards of hours, minutes, and seconds.

Shí is still used to describe the hour. Because of the potential for confusion, xiǎoshí (小时; 小時, literally "small hour") is sometimes used for the hour as part of a 24-hour cycle, and shíchen (时辰; 時辰) is used for the hour as part of the old 12-hour cycle.

Diǎn is also used interchangeably with shí for the hour. It can also be used to talk about the time on the hour—for example, 8 o' clock is written as 8 diǎn (八点; 八點).

Fēn is also used for minutes. To avoid confusion, sometimes the word fēnzhōng (分钟; 分鐘, literally "clock minute") is used to clarify that one is talking about modern minutes. The time 09:45 can thus be written as "9 shí, 45 fēn" (四十五; 四十五) or "9 diǎn, 45 fēn" (四十五; 四十五).

has been defined as ​196 of a day since 1628, so the modern equals 15 minutes and each double hour contains exactly 8 .[2] Since then, has been used as shorthand to talk about time in ​18 of a double hour or ​14 of a single hour. Their usage is similar to using "quarter hour" for 15 minutes or "half an hour" for 30 minutes in English. For example, 6:45 can be written as "6 diǎn, 3 " (六点; 六點).

Miǎo is now the standard term for a second. Like fēn, it is sometimes written as miǎozhōng(秒钟; 秒鐘, literally "clock second") to clarify that someone is talking about modern seconds.

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ 600 is the LCM of 100 and 24, so the time between and shí scale may be ​16, ​13, ​12, ​23, or ​56 major . The ​16 major is the common factor
  2. ^ Note that the beginning of the central hour doesn't occur at the same time as the fourth major . The difference between the start of the central hour and the fourth major is always between 1 and 5 minor .
  3. ^ This 30-part day is identical to the Hindu muhūrta.
  4. ^ This assumes that the diǎn haven't moved; or if they have, that sāngēng still falls at exactly midnight.

References[edit]

  1. ^ K. Yabuuti [Kiyoshi Yabuuchi], "Astronomical tables in China, from the Wutai to the Ch'ing dynasties", in Japanese Studies in the History of Science no. 2 (1963) 94–100.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Sôma, Mitsuru; Kawabata, Kin-aki; Tanikawa, Kiyotaka (2004-10-25). "Units of Time in Ancient China and Japan". Publications of the Astronomical Society of Japan. 56 (5): 887–904. Bibcode:2004PASJ...56..887S. doi:10.1093/pasj/56.5.887. ISSN 0004-6264. 
  3. ^ "Tiānwén xùn" 天文訓 [Patterns of Heaven], Huainanzi, 日出于暘谷,浴于咸池,拂于扶桑,是謂晨明。
    登于扶桑,爰始將行,是謂朏明。
    至于曲阿,是謂旦明。
    至于曾泉,是謂蚤食。
    至于桑野,是謂晏食。
    至于衡陽,是謂隅中。
    至于昆吾,是謂正中。
    至于鳥次,是謂小還。
    至于悲谷,是謂餔時。
    至于女紀,是謂大還。
    至于淵虞,是謂高舂。
    至于連石,是謂下舂。
    至于悲泉,爰止其女,爰息其馬,是謂縣車。
    至于虞淵,是謂黃昏。
    至于蒙谷,是謂定昏。
     
  4. ^ Stephenson, F. Richard; Green, David A. (2002), Historical supernovae and their remnants, Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 15–16, ISBN 0-19-850766-6 
  5. ^ Xu Shen, (ed.), "Volume eleven", Shuowen Jiezi, 漏:以銅受水,刻節,晝夜百刻。 Translation: The water clock holds the water in the copper pot, and marks the scale on the rule. There are 100 marks which represent a day. 
  6. ^ a b c d 曆象彙編/曆法典/第099卷 [Calendar compilations/Calendar quotations/Volume 99], Gujin Tushu Jicheng 
  7. ^ Jean-Claude Martzloff, "Chinese mathematical astronomy", in Helaine Selin, ed., Mathematics across cultures (Dordrecht: Kluwer, 2000) 373–407, p.393, ISBN 0-7923-6481-3
  8. ^ "Taishō Tripiṭaka 1425", Móhēsēngzhī Lǜ 摩訶僧祗律 [Mahāsāṃghika], 須臾者,二十念名一瞬頃,二十瞬名一彈指,二十彈指名一羅豫,二十羅豫名一須臾。日極長時有十八須臾,夜極短時有十二須臾,夜極長時有十八須臾,日極短時有十二須臾。 Rough translation: Definition of xūyú: 20 niàn is 1 shùnqǐng. 20 shùn is 1 tánzhǐ. 20 tánzhǐ is one luóyù. 20 luóyù is one xūyú. In the longest day there are 18 xūyú, and in the shortest night there are 12 xūyú. In the shortest day there are 12 xūyú and in the longest night there are 18 xūyú. 
  9. ^ a b "Zhì dì 14 tiānwén shàng" 志第14 天文上 [Treatise 14, On Astronomy], Book of Sui, "Water clocks" (漏刻), 晝有朝,有禺,有中,有晡,有夕。夜有甲、乙、丙、丁、戊。 Rough translation: Daytime has morning, midmorning, noon, late afternoon, evening. Night has first, second, third, fourth, fifth. 
  10. ^ a b c Petersen, Jens Østergård (1992), "The Taiping Jing and the A.D. 102 Clepsydra Reform", Acta Orientalia, Copenhagen, 53: 122–158 

Bibliography[edit]

  • Colin Ronan (1999), "Astronomy in China, Korea and Japan", in Christopher Walker, Astronomy before the telescope, London: British Museum Press, pp. 247–250, ISBN 0-7141-2733-7 
  • Stephenson, F. Richard (1997), Historical Eclipses and Earth’s Rotation, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, ISBN 9780521461948