Signs on life's pathways

Shanghai Star. 2004-01-29

HOW do you choose proper dates for significant activities, such as wedding ceremonies or the opening of a business? Chinese people often consult the Chinese Almanac for help.

The Chinese Almanac, also called huangli, is a kind of calendar which marks auspicious and inauspicious days for certain activities.

The almanac is nothing but a guideline for daily activities, indicating the best time to undertake activities such as moving house, opening businesses or celebrating weddings.

The Chinese Almanac has a long history. Before the Western Han Dynasty (206 BC - AD 24) there were six calendars, and the most ancient one could be traced back to the period of Huangdi, the ancient legendary ancestor of the Chinese. It is this which finally developed into the Chinese Almanac.

The emperors of China attached great importance to the calendars, and from the days of the Tang Dynasty (618-907), the calendar could not be made or published without the approval and inspection of the emperors. Thus almanacs received the name huangli, since huang means emperor in Chinese and li means calendar.

Not just dates

Serving as a guideline for farmers, such almanacs often comprised knowledge of agriculture including the renowned Chinese farmers' 24 solar terms.

Later the almanac was mixed with knowledge of fengshui and Chinese astrology, which later became the most important parts of the almanac.

A Chinese huangli almanac is based on the lunar cycle, providing a guideline that either promotes or advises against certain tasks being undertaken on certain days depending on the combination of the Heavenly Stem and the Earthly Branch.

The 10 Heavenly Stems are the five elements of water, wood, fire, earth and metal, each doubled (according to yin and yang), that is Jia, Yi, Bing, Ding, Wu, Ji, Geng, Xin, Ren, Kui. The 12 Earthly Branches are the 12 animals of Chinese astrology: the rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, rooster, dog and boar.

The stems and branches combine with each other over a 60-year cycle in terms of the five elements in their yin and yang states.

The years expressed by the Heavenly Stems and Earthly Branches are quite different from solar ones. Every three years there is one year with 13 months, totaling 383 or 384 days.

In former times, before the conditions of a building site were considered, auspicious dates had to be chosen carefully for the actual building tasks in order to ensure harmony.

Changing fortune

The almanac is published annually and never repeats itself exactly. So this year's almanac is quite different from that of next year. If you consult last year's almanac to select days for this year, you will be considered out-of-date and obstinate. The term lao huangli which means "old almanac" indicates something obsolete and completely useless.

The almanac mainly consists of activities that suit or should be avoided on each day. If you want to select a wedding day, you should check the almance for the days or times which suit weddings and try to avoid those which are marked as improper for such ceremonies.

There is a section specially dedicated to recommended days for ritual Spring cleanings before the Chinese Lunar New Year.

The almanac also tells the auspicious days to conduct certain daily activities. The almanac is consistent with the belief that there are four gods in charge of daily activities, which each take turns to rule one of the eight directions. The four gods are the God of Happiness, the God of Nobility, the God of Wealth and the God of Evil. For instance, if the God of Wealth is in the north today, you should look to the same direction if you want to seek a fortune. And if the God of Evil takes charge of the South today, you had better not travel in that direction.

You can also find out if a day is auspicious or not from the Almanac in reference to your own position within the Chinese Zodiac.

But the almanac should not be used just on its own. Normally factors taken from fengshui and knowledge of "I Ching" are also considered simultaneously when selecting an auspicious day.

Copyright by Shanghai Star.