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Sunday, November 6, 2011

East goes west: the slowly abolished old calendar in China... in 1912

from the An unfinished republic (China 1912)

Found this most interesting – An Unfinished Republic by David Strand. As usual details below plus an online chapter worth reading here.
In this cogent and insightful reading of China’s twentieth-century political culture, David Strand argues that the Chinese Revolution of 1911 engendered a new political life—one that began to free men and women from the inequality and hierarchy that formed the spine of China’s social and cultural order. 

Despite delays in bringing customs up-to-date and the ability to compartmentalize some changes, 1911-12 represented the end of an era in a deep and hard to plumb sense. Ancient institutions and time-honored customs began to disappear. A new political world opened up, though its dimensions and nature were less than clear as the weeks, months, and years passed. 
The founding of the Chinese Republic in Nanjing on January 1, 1912, the thirteenth day of the eleventh month by the old calendar and less than three months after the October 10, 1911, troop mutiny in Wuchang that triggered the revolution, was meant to signal a decisive political transformation. To underline its hope for a new era, the revolutionary government in Nanjing also adopted the Western calendar on the last day of December 1911 and set the first year of the Republic to begin on the first day of January, designated now as China's new New Year's Day and the year 4,609 since the reign of the Yellow Emperor. Thus 1912 would be the "First Year of the Republic" (Minguo yuan), 1913 Year Two, and so on. The people and their Republic would now reign and number the years as emperors had done within each dynasty.
Of all the bold proposals broached in 1912, deciding a new date and meaning for "Chinese New Year" just as Chinese families began to make traditional end of the lunar year preparations was among the most ambitious and overreaching. In their haste to be seen as victorious, the revolutionaries in Nanjing also declared China a republic before the Qing court accepted final defeat. As a result China for nearly a month and a half had both an emperor and a president, a state of dual sovereignty indicative of confusion that reigned more securely than any single ruler or chief executive.
Most Chinese did not even know the year in question was "1912." World travelers like Liang Qichao of course did. Liang began using the Western dating system during a voyage to Hawaii in 1899 in a conscious embrace of cosmopolitanism. The revolutionary Zhang Binglin knew it was 1912 too but adamantly opposed adopting the new calendar as part of his fierce defense of Chinese traditions. Any republic Zhang would support had to run on Chinese time. According to the old calendar, the first weeks of the Republic still lay within the third year of Emperor Puyi's Xuantong reign, the Xinhai year by heavenly stem and earthly branch. Accordingly, the more accurate, inclusive name for the "1911 Revolution" is the Chinese one: Xinhai Revolution (Xinhai geming). Xinhai was supposed to be the year of triumph that Gengshen, Jiashen, Jiawu, and Gengzi had not been.
Not surprisingly, New Year's Day in the first year of the Republic for all but the most observant republicans still took place on regular schedule and according to the traditional dating system on February 18, 1912. The inertial force of Chinese time made itself felt. A week after announcement of the switch in calendars, Nanjing notified government agencies that merchants would be allowed to keep to the old calendar until the end of the Xinhai year. Changsha held New Year festivities on January 1, 1912, with a military parade accompanied by waving of the five-color striped flag of the Republic that signified China's multiethnic identity (red for Han, yellow for Manchu, blue for Mongol, white for Tibetan, and black for Muslim), trumpet blowing, and mass singing by troops. However, the ceremonies in Changsha were inspired more by Sun Yat-sen's inauguration as president in Nanjing and news of battlefield victories than dedication to the new calendar. In his diary of his first year living in Beijing beginning in May 1912, Lu Xun recorded being among the celebrants on October 10, 1912, the first anniversary of the Wuchang Uprising, joining crowds on the grounds of the Altar of Agriculture on January 1, 1913, in honor of Republic Commemoration Day, taking a stroll on "Old Calendar New Year's Day" on February 6, and noting the passage of Unity Commemoration Day on February 12, established by Yuan Shikai to mark the anniversary of Puyi's abdication and the Qing dynasty's demise.
Chinese would keep two kinds of time: the lunar calendar of festivals and agricultural rhythms and the Western calendar of the global, common era. For the remainder of the 1910s Lu Xun occasionally neglected to note the arrival of October's Double Ten Day and usually ignored mention of the January 1 and February 12 holidays except as days off from his work as a Ministry of Education employee. He never failed to note the arrival of the lunar New Year. Two decades later the Nationalists would still be trying, with mixed success, to supersede what the government hopefully termed the "abolished calendar."

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