East Asian age reckoning

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Dol is the traditional way of celebrating a birthday of a one-year-old child in South Korea

East Asian age reckoning originated in China and continues in limited use there along with Japan and Vietnam, and is still common in Korea. People are born at the age of one, i.e. the first year of lifetime using an ordinal numeral (instead of "zero" using a cardinal numeral), and on Chinese New Year or New Year's Day one year is added to their age. That is, age is the number of calendar years in which they have lived.[1][2] Since age is incremented at the beginning of the lunar or solar year, rather than on the anniversary of a birthday, people may be one or two years older in Asian reckoning than in the international age system.

Variations in date for change of age[edit]

Under the traditional reckoning in China, age changes on the first day of Chinese New Year. In Japan and South Korea, New Year's Day is used as the date of change of age for the traditional system.


In either the traditional or modern age system the word sui (traditional Chinese: ; simplified Chinese: ; pinyin: suì), meaning "years of age", is used for age counting. In Chinese usage, there are three different types of age reckoning systems:

  • Traditional age, lit. "nominal age" (traditional Chinese: 虛歲/齡; simplified Chinese: 虚岁/龄; pinyin: xūsuì/líng) based on the East Asian reckoning system
  • Modern age, lit. "a full year of age" (traditional Chinese: 周歲/週歲; simplified Chinese: 周岁; pinyin: zhōusuì)
  • "Real age" (traditional Chinese: 實歲; simplified Chinese: 实岁; pinyin: shísuì) based on the Gregorian calendar[3]

Both the "traditional age" and the "modern age" have lost much of their popularity within China, and the "real age" is nowadays the most commonly used age reckoning system in China.[4][failed verification] Of the three, only "real age" (shísuì) is legally used when reporting age in an official document such as the passport, ID card or a bank paper.[citation needed] The "real age" is also the only legally admissible to start drinking alcohol.[4] The "real age" is the current Chinese legal system of age reckoning.[4]

When a child has survived one month of life (29 days if lunar month reckoning) a mun yuet (Chinese: 滿月; pinyin: mǎnyuè) celebration can be observed, in which duck or chicken eggs dyed red are distributed to guests to signify fertility.


The traditional Japanese system of age reckoning, or kazoedoshi (数え年, lit. "counted years"), which incremented one's age on New Year's Day, was rendered obsolete by law in 1902 when Japan officially adopted the modern age system,[5][6][7] known in Japanese as man nenrei (満年齢). However, the traditional system was still commonly used, so in 1950 another law was established to encourage people to use the modern age system.[8][9][10]

Today the traditional system is used only by the elderly and in rural areas. Elsewhere its use is limited to traditional ceremonies, divinations, and obituaries.[original research?]

Japanese uses the word sai ( or ) as a counter word for both the traditional and modern age system.


Koreans who use the traditional system refer to their age in units called sal (), using Korean numerals in ordinal form. Thus, a person is one sal ("han sal", 한살) during the first calendar year of life, and ten sal during the tenth calendar year.[11][12]

The 100th-day anniversary of a baby is called baegil (, ) which literally means "a hundred days" in Korean, and is given a special celebration, marking the survival of what was once a period of high infant mortality. The first anniversary of birth named dol () is likewise celebrated, and given even greater significance. South Koreans celebrate their birthdays,[13] even though every South Korean gains one 'sal' on New Year's Day.[14] Because the first year comes at birth and the second on the first day of the New Year, children born, for example, on December 29 will reach two years of age on the New Year's Day, when they are only days old. Hence, everyone born on the same calendar year effectively has the same age and can easily be calculated by the formula: Age = (Current Year − Birth Year) + 1

In modern South Korea the traditional system is used alongside the international age system which is referred to as "man-nai" (만나이) in which "man" () means "full"[15] or "actual", and "nai" (나이) meaning "age".[14][16] For example, man yeol sal means "full ten years", or "ten years old" in English. The Korean word dol means "years elapsed", identical to the English "years old", but is only used to refer to the first few birthdays. Cheotdol or simply dol refers to the first Western-equivalent birthday, dudol refers to the second, and so on.[17][18]

The traditional system has not been used in modern North Korea since the 1980s. South Korea is now the only country that uses the East Asian age, which may consequently be referred to globally as "Korean age".

The Korean Birthday Celebrations by the lunar calendar is called eumnyeok saeng-il (음력 생일, 陰曆生日) and yangnyeok saeng-il (양력 생일, 陽曆生日) is the birthday by Gregorian calendar.[19] In the past, most people used the lunar calendar, eumnyeok saeng-il, to tell their birthday more than the Gregorian calendar yangnyeok saeng-il but nowadays Koreans, especially young generations, tend to use yangnyeok saeng-il for telling their birthdates.

For official government uses, documents, and legal procedures, the international system is used. Regulations regarding age limits on beginning school, as well as the age of consent, are all based on this system (man-nai).[16][20] The age limit for tobacco, alcohol use are after January 1 of the year one's age turns to 19.[21]


As being influenced by Chinese culture, the ancient Vietnamese also used this system and, despite not being the official age on papers and in daily usages at the present, the East Asian age is still limitedly used by adults, especially old people in rural areas. However, this age is not really familiar to the young generation. In Vietnam, it is called "tuổi mụ", "tuổi ta" (literally "Our age") or "tuổi âm" (Lunar-calendar age).

Eastern Mongolia[edit]

In Eastern Mongolia, age is traditionally determined based on the number of full moons since conception for girls, and the number of new moons since birth for boys.[citation needed]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Shi Liwei (30 April 2009). "Why Chinese People Have a Nominal Age". ChinaCulture.org. Archived from the original on 5 October 2009. Retrieved 11 November 2009.
  2. ^ "98, 90 or 93? Expert sheds light on tycoon's age". The Star. October 25, 2007. Archived from the original on June 4, 2011. Retrieved 2009-02-26.
  3. ^ "中国人为何还有一个虚岁". Retrieved 24 January 2012.
  4. ^ a b c Ad, J. (2019). "Harbin Beer Gives Teen Lifetime Supply of Beer for Her 18th Birthday". Anheuser-Busch InBev (AB InBev) owned beer brand Harbin Beer in China (where the legal drinking age is 18), decided to fill that spot on the birthday wishlist by gifting the last person to turn 18 in China, Tian Jimo, with her own personal Harbin Beer tap and a lifetime supply of beer. (...) The promotion serves as a show of sympathy for Jimo who had to watch all her friends who turned 18 over the course of year enjoy a beer while she couldn't – at least legally that is. Tian Jimo and Tian Jichu are none other than a pair of twins who made news as babies born across two millennia with the former entering the world at 23:59 hours on 31st December, 2000
  5. ^ レファレンス事例詳細: 相-090002, Collaborative Reference Database. (Accessed 2009-11-11.) "なお、年齢が数えか満年齢かについては、現行法規である「年齢計算ニ関スル法律」が明治35年12月2日法律第50号として存在するが、その前に「明治六年第三十六号布告」で満年齢について規定された。 (translation: Regarding whether one counts age by kazoedoshi or the modern age system (満年齢), there exists the current "Legal age calculation" law in the form of Meiji 35 (1902), December 2, Act no. 50, but prior to that the use of the modern age system was set forth in the "Meiji 13 Proclamation No. 6".)"
  6. ^ "年齢計算ニ関スル法律 Act on Calculation of Ages" (in Japanese). Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications Japan. 1902. Archived from the original on 2013-01-25. Retrieved 2009-11-11.
  7. ^ "Act on Calculation of Ages". Ministry of Justice, Japan. 1902.
  8. ^ Hirofumi Hirano, July Heisei 40, 年齢の計算に関する質問主意書 (Memorandum on questions about the calculation of age) Archived 2009-06-28 at the Wayback Machine, Japan House of Representatives. (Retrieved 2009-11-11) "わが国では、「年齢のとなえ方に関する法律」に基づき、昭和二十五年以降数え年による年齢計算を止め、満年齢によって年齢を計算している。 (translation: In Japan, the age laws which were originally based on the calculation by East Asian age reckoning (数え年) were replaced in Showa 25 with the modern age system (満年齢) of age calculation.)"
  9. ^ "年齢のとなえ方に関する法律Act on Designation of Ages" (in Japanese). Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications Japan. 1950. Archived from the original on 2013-01-25.
  10. ^ "Act on Counting of Ages". Ministry of Justice, Japan. 1949.
  11. ^ Song, Jae Jung. (2005), pp. 81–82, (quote) "Koreans prefer native Korean to Sino-Korean numerals when telling their own or other people's age,...Note that the native age classifier sal must be used with native Korean numerals and the Sino-Korean age classifier sey with Sino-Korean numerals,.."
  12. ^ "In Korea, all children are older than their European peers". Pravda. July 16, 2013. Retrieved 2014-04-08.
  13. ^ DuBois (2004), pp. 72–73
  14. ^ a b Park, Hyunjoo; Pan, Yuling (2007-05-19). "Cognitive Interviewing with Asian Populations: Findings from Chinese and Korean Interviews" (PDF). Anaheim, CA: RTI International. Retrieved 2009-11-11. Koreans are considered one year old at birth and added another year at New Year's....some Koreans may use American age counting convention while others still follow Korean convention. To eliminate this confusion, Korean asked '만나이(Man-nai)': the same as the U.S. age counting convention.
  15. ^ 만7(滿) (in Korean). Nate Korean Dictionary. Archived from the original on 2011-10-06. Retrieved 2009-11-11. 시기나 햇수를 꽉 차게 헤아림을 이르는 말.(trans. The word refers to calculating full years or periods.
  16. ^ a b Hilts and Kim, (2002), p. 228 (quote) "Koreans have a peculiar way of calculating age. When you're born, you're already one year old, and then you get another year older when New Year's Day rolls around. The result is that your hangungnai (한국나이), 'Korean age', is usually one to two years older than your man-nai (만 나이), 'actual age'. Under-age kids sometimes try to take some advantage of this, but eligibility for drinking, obtaining license etc is determined by your actual age."
  17. ^ [Dol] (in Korean). Nate Korean–English Dictionary. Archived from the original on 2011-07-14. Retrieved 2009-11-11. )
  18. ^ 돌1 [Dol] (in Korean). Nate Korean Dictionary. Archived from the original on 2011-07-14. Retrieved 2009-11-11. I. (명사) 어린아이가 태어난 날로부터 한 해가 되는 날. (II ) 1. 생일이 돌아온 횟수를 세는 단위. 주로 두세 살의 어린아이에게 쓴다. 2. 특정한 날이 해마다 돌아올 때, 그 횟수를 세는 단위.
  19. ^ Kim Tae-yeop (김태엽) (2006-08-08). "'8월 18일은 이승엽 DAY!'...요미우리, 축하 이벤트 마련" ['The day on August 18 is Lee Seung-Yeop's Day!'..Yomiuri, preparing a congratulatory event] (in Korean). Sports Chosun. Retrieved 2009-11-11. 최근 이승엽의 아버지 이춘광씨는 보통 양력생일을 치르는 요즘의 추세와 달리 이승엽의 음력 생일(1976년 8월18일)을 치르는 사연을 밝혀 화제가 됐다 (trans. It was a recent topic that Lee Chun-gwang, the father of Lee Seung-Yeop, revealed the reason why Lee Seung-Yeop takes his lunar birthday on August 18, 1976 instead of the solar birthday as opposed to the current trend.)
  20. ^ "성년 成年, full age" (in Korean). Nate / Britannica. Archived from the original on 2011-06-10. Retrieved 2009-11-11. 한국의 경우 만 20세로 성년이 되며(민법 제4조)...연령의 계산은 민법 제155조 이하의 규정에 의하나, 출생일을 산입한다(동법 제158조). 1977년의 민법 개정으로 혼인에 의한 성년의제(成年擬制)의 제도를 도입했다..대통령선거법·국회의원선거법·국민투표법·지방자치법·지방의회의원선거법·미성년자보호법 등에서는 이 원칙이 적용되지 않는다.
  21. ^ "청소년보호법" [Adolescent Protection Law]. 국가법령정보센터 (in Korean). 대한민국 법제처. 7 July 2016. Retrieved 30 July 2016. "청소년" 이란 만 19세 미만인 사람을 말한다. 다만, 만 19세가 되는 해의 1월 1일을 맞이한 사람은 제외한다.


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