CHAPTER XXXII. THE CALENDAR

Allusion has already been made to the eclipses mentioned in Confucius' history as a means by which the probability of his general truth as a historian may in a certain measure be gauged. A few words upon the Chinese calendar, as it is and was, may therefore not be amiss. The Chinese month has from first to last been uncompromisingly lunar; that is to say, the first day of each month, or "moon" as it may strictly and properly be called, always falls within the day (beginning at midnight) during which the new moon occurs. Of course, Peking is the administrative centre now, and therefore the observations are taken there with reference to the Peking meridian. As Confucius took his facts and records mainly from the Lu archives, and (we must suppose) noted celestial movements from what was seen by the Lu astronomers, it has always been presumed that the eclipses mentioned by him were observed from Lu too; that is, from a station over four degrees of longitude and one of latitude removed from the imperial capital as it then was (modern Ho-nan Fu). It was the duty of all sovereign princes to proclaim the first day of the moon at their ancestral temple; and even if the Chinese of those days had discovered the difference in "time" between east and west, these princes must each of them have proclaimed the day during which the new moon occurred as it occurred to themselves, in their own State, and not as it occurred to the Emperor's astronomers. On the other hand, when eclipses were observed from the comparatively small territory of Lu, it must have occurred, at least occasionally, that visitors from other states had either the same eclipse or other eclipses to report. If the Emperor's astronomer reported eclipses in Ho-nan- Fu on a given day, it is difficult to see how Lu, which was a centre almost of equal standing with the imperial capital for orthodoxy in rites and records, could have entirely ignored such reports.

But the Chinese year has always been luni-solar. From the earliest times they had observed the twelve ecliptical "mansions" and zodiacal signs, and also that the time occupied by the sun in travelling through a mansion was rather longer than one lunation, or the time intervening between two new moons. Their object has accordingly always been to bring the lunar and solar years into manageable combination, so that the equinoxes, solstices, and "seasons" might occur with as much regularity as possible in the same months, and so that the husbandman might know when to sow his grain. Formerly they regulated this discrepancy according to the mean movements of the sun and moon; but, ever since the Jesuits first instructed them more accurately, they have regulated the two years, that is, the solar year and the twelve lunations, according to the true movements, and with reference to the meridian of Peking. If the moons were each exactly 29 1/2 days in length, instead of being 44 minutes 2.87 seconds longer, it would have been a simple matter to halve the ordinary lunar year, and make six months "large" (30 days) and six "small" (29 days); but the extra 44 minutes and a fraction accumulate, and the result is that there must always be a larger number of "great" months than "small" in the year. The way the Chinese arranged this was to call a month "great" (30 days) if the interval between mid-night (beginning of the new-moon day) and the hour of the next new moon was full 30 days or over in duration; if less than 30 days, then the month was a "small" one (29 days). Not more than two long months ever followed in succession, and two short months never did so.

But, in any case, even twelve regular moons of 291/2 days only make 354 days, whereas a solar year is about 3651/4 days, whilst the sun's time in passing through a "mansion" (one-twelfth of the solar year) is about 301/2 days. Thus there was a "superfluity" of about ten days in every lunar year, or about one lunation in every third year; not to mention that a "mansion" was about a day longer than a lunation, and that therefore the husbandman was liable to be thrown out of his reckoning. In order to remedy this, the Chinese intercalated a month once in about thirty-three moons, and called the intercalary month by the same name as the one preceding it, both with regard to the common numbers 1-12, and with regard to the two endless cycles of twelve signs and sixty signs, by which moons are calculated for ever, in the past and in the future. Regarding the difficulty of seasons, the solar year was divided into twenty-four "joints," and each "joint" was about half a "mansion" (the difference rarely exceeding one hour). However, the spring equinox is always the sixth "joint," and is the middle of spring season: this and the other "joints" being all about 151/4 days in length, the Chinese seasons can be symmetrically divided with relation to both equinoxes and both solstices; for the intercalary moon (judiciously made unobtrusive, and kept out of vulgar sight as far as possible) settles the lunar year difficulty; and the seasons conform, as of course they should do, to the heat of the sun, which is a much more natural and practical arrangement than our own arbitrarily assorted and unequal months.