Lunar vs Solar: Which Calendar to Use?

Most Chinese are familiar with the Chinese lunar calendar, which keeps track of the movements of the moon, in particular the new moon and full moon days. However, Chinese fortune-tellers and Feng Shui masters also refer to the Hsia Calendar or Xia Li, which is the Chinese solar calendar. So, for purposes of plotting a Feng Shui chart or analyzing one’s life path, it is important that we choose the right calendar for the right purpose.


Much has been said about the traditional almanac and Chinese system of measuring and recording the passage of time. The system of timekeeping that the Chinese use is a combination of both the lunar and solar calendars. While the Lunar calendar mirrors the movements of the moon, the Hsia or Solar Calendar reflects the movement and seasons of the sun.

The traditional Chinese Almanac is used to indicate traditional festivals and to time agricultural activities in the countryside. Ordinarily, the Chinese live their daily lives on a monthly basis according to the lunar cycle, which mark the new moon and full moon days. On the other hand, the farming community and fortune-tellers subscribe to the multi-dimensional Xia Li or Hsia calendar, which represents the Chinese version of a solar calendar.

To illustrate how the Chinese have internalized both systems, let’s observe how they state their birthdays. Besides the Gregorian dates (now that we are in modern times), the Chinese express their birthdays in lunar dates, which can be used for fortune-telling purposes.

The lunar calendar is used for matters pertaining to the human being, while the solar calendar is used for determining the seasons as well as the Feng Shui of the land. This is why your astrological animal is based on when Chinese New Year falls. If you are born before Chinese New Year, your astrological animal is the animal of the year before. You are only deemed to be born under the current year’s astrological animal sign if you are born on or after Chinese New Year.

Let’s also examine an interesting aspect of the Chinese concept of year in respect of nián and suì. Traditionally, the Chinese express their ages as a year “older” than their Western counterparts. This is because the Chinese have a completely different point of reference. Nián describes the year from one Chinese New Year to another, while Suì describes the solar year from one Winter Solstice to another. When querying about one’s age, the Chinese enquire about the number of suì you have observed. That is why the Chinese claim themselves to be a year older after celebrating the Winter Solstice or Dông Zhì in December.

This Winter Festival is a special day when the yin qualities of darkness and cold are at their most powerful, yet it is also the turning point, giving way to the auspicious light and warmth of yang. For this reason, it is a time for optimism and celebration, a season when people get together for family reunions.

Hsia Calendar or Xia Li

Based on the solar cycle, this Chinese system of timekeeping is said to have been started by the Xia people (ca 2,205 B.C.). Also known as the Farmer’s calendar, the Xia Li is a calendar of multiple functions. Seen from a practical point of view, it helps people keep track of seasons and schedule agricultural activities. Besides being a record of the passage of time, it is also used for fortune-telling (i.e. Four Pillars of Destiny) and predictive Feng Shui (i.e. Flying Star).

The hours, days, months and years are expressed in the Gan Zhi system of 10 Heavenly Stems and 12 Earthly Branches, which translates into a combination of the 5 Elements – Metal, Water, Wood, Fire, and Earth.

The Stems and Branches are combined to generate a cycle of 60 years – each beginning with the Year of the Wood Rat.The current cycle began in 2004, which also corresponds to the beginning of Period 8 (in the Lower Yuan) according to San Yuan Flying Star Feng Shui. This year, 2023, marks the final year of Period 8, which reigned for the past 20 years. Next year, 2024, will be the beginning of Period 9, which will last for the next 20 years.


The Lunar Calendar

The months in the Lunar Calendar line up with the lunar positions or phases of the moon – from new moon through its waxing cycle to full moon, then through its waning cycle back to new moon. The first day of the month is the day on which a new moon occurs, and the fifteenth day (mid-month) is when the full moon day occurs. Both are important days in the lunar cycle, during which the Chinese observe special prayers and make cultural and/or religious offerings.

As each lunar month is equivalent to 29.5 days, this makes a lunar year approximately 354 days – 11 days shorter than a Gregorian year. To bring the calendar back into alignment, a leap year with 13 months occurs every 3 to 4 years.

An example of a traditional Lunar Festival celebrated by the Chinese is the Mid-Autumn Festival or Zhông Qiû Jié. This is celebrated on the 15th day of the 8th month each year to coincide with the full moon. Another important festival is Chinese New Year, which is celebrated on the first new moon day of the new Lunar Year.

The Jupiter Aspect

The surveillance of other celestial bodies (i.e. planets, stars, etc) besides the Sun and Moon attest to the intricacy of the Chinese Calendar. The scrutiny of the orbit of planet Jupiter gives rise tothe observation of the annual Feng Shui “affliction” known as the Grand Duke Jupiter.

Jupiter is the 5th planet from the Sun and by far the largest. More than a thousand times the size of planet Earth, Jupiter is the third brightest object in the sky after the Moon and Venus. From the vantage point of Earth, Jupiter appears to move in a direction opposite to that of the Sun. This led astronomers to the discovery that Earth was not the center of motion.

Chinese astronomers observed that Jupiter took 12 years to orbit the Sun. Hence, the cycle of 12 years, which corresponds to the 12 Earthly Branches or 12 animal signs of the Chinese Zodiac. The Year of the Rat is designated as the 1st year of the Jupiter Cycle, and the Year of the Boar indicates the 12th or final year of the Jupiter Cycle. This year, 2023, the Year of the Rabbit, corresponds to the 4th year of the current Jupiter Cycle.

The Chinese refer to planet Jupiter as “Sui Xing,” or Minister of the Year. The position of the planet Jupiter also indicates the direction governed by the Grand Duke Jupiter or Tai Sui for the year. In 2023, the Grand Duke of Jupiter reigns in the direction marked as East 2 or 82.5°- 97.5° on the Chinese Compass. Feng Shui experts continually caution against confronting the Grand Duke Jupiter, as “he” represents an insurmountable obstacle. Owing to the massive size of Jupiter (more than 1000 times the size of Earth), this is an important piece of feng shui advice.