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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The first known Chinese calendar : a reconstruction by the synchronic evidential approach Liu, Xueshun


The first known Chinese calendar refers to the calendar embodied in the Yin oracle-bone inscriptions (OBI). Since 1925, the two-layered evidential method has been the standard approach to interpreting them. This method combines primary inscriptional evidence with secondary materials, resulting in inconclusiveness and inaccuracy in previous studies. By adopting the synchronic evidential approach, the present dissertation aims at accurately reconstructing the system by which the Yin divided time into fixed periods. Chapter 1 deals with background issues: it justifies the assertion that the Yin calendar was the first known Chinese calendar, presents inscriptional evidence indicating the existence of a prescriptive Yin calendar, proposes absolute dates for this calendar and justifies the adoption of the synchronic evidential approach. Chapter 2 focuses on time divisions in the Yin day. The two criteria for determining a time division in the OBI are defined as: 1) a word's usage as a time division in early Chinese texts, and 2) suitableness of this usage in inscriptional contexts. The order of the twelve time divisions shows that "su" is the first division of the Yin day. "Su" is thus the start of the Yin day. Chapter 3 analyzes the lunation in the Yin calendar. Inscriptional evidence confirms that the Yin month is either 30 or 2 9 days long. There is no proof of a long Yin month of 31 days or longer, or for a short one of 25 days. Long and short Yin months occur alternately. The Yin employed both year-end intercalation and in-year intercalation. By late periods, in-year intercalation replaced year-end intercalation. Chapter 4 addresses issues concerning the Yin year. A normal Yin year consists of 12 months, a leap year 13 months. The designation for the Yin year is "si". Reconstructions show the commencement of the Yin year is the second month before the month containing the winter solstice. Chapter 5 takes issue with a problematic attitude in the field. It is inappropriate to deny conclusions drawn from inscriptions. Rather, a researcher should give priority to inscriptional evidence over all other secondary materials. It is time to replace the two-layered evidential method with the synchronic evidential approach.

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