If you’re a beginner in Chinese, there’s every chance that you’ve already learned how to say the months in Mandarin.
It’s simple, really.
Because many aspects of the language are logical, just knowing the numbers in Chinese gets you halfway there.
But how much do you know about the celebrations during each calendar month?
Do you know how to talk about your monthly appointments or an event that happened two months prior?
What do you know about the lunar calendar? As a Chinese learner, it’s important that you cover the basics of the lunar calendar, considering the country’s biggest holidays and traditions are based on it.
We’ll cover all of these topics and more in this post!
Differences Between the Gregorian and Chinese Lunar Calendars
Before we discuss the months in Chinese, let’s talk about the different calendars that China follows, namely the Gregorian calendar, known as 公历 (gōnglì), and the Chinese lunar calendar, known as 农历 (nónglì).
By now, you might’ve noticed that the dates of Chinese New Year are different every year, and you probably know that they’re set in accordance with the lunar calendar rather than the Gregorian calendar. Unlike the Gregorian calendar, which is based on Earth’s rotation and revolution around the sun, the lunar calendar is based on the phases of the moon, as well as the longitude of the sun. Thus, the Chinese lunar calendar is a combination of lunar and solar terms.
In one lunar year, there are 12 lunar terms and 24 solar terms. The lunar terms and lunar months are used interchangeably.
Leap Year vs. Leap Month
Every four years is a leap year in the Gregorian calendar, where an additional day is included to sync up with the seasonal year. Because a lunar term or month (29.5 days) is shorter than a Gregorian month, it also has a pattern in place where it re-synchronizes with the seasonal year. Instead of an additional day every four years, the lunar calendar has an extra term every 32 or 33 months.
Chinese Holidays Based on the Lunar Calendar
While some of the more modern Chinese holidays are celebrated on the same date every year (like Chinese Father’s Day and 520 Chinese Internet Valentine’s Day), most of the big national holidays follow the Chinese solar/lunar calendar, as explained in this conversation below:
Like most public holidays in China, the first person in this dialogue also celebrates his birthday according to the traditional Chinese calendar, which he further explains is based on the positions of the sun and the moon.
If you have any trouble following along with the conversation, the audio clip is also available on FluentU, with interactive subtitles for easy listening.
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While the dialogue above is succinct in its description of the lunar calendar, if you’re still confused, there are loads of calendar converters online to help you figure out the dates of past and future holidays.
Save the Date! Learn the Months in Chinese and Discover Chinese Holidays
The Significance of Months in the Chinese Calendar
Each lunar term or month has a modern name but can also be referred to in its traditional name (which is reflective of what is in season). Each month is also assigned an Earthly Branch, or an animal from the Chinese zodiac.
1. 正月 (zhēngyuè) — First Month
陬月 (zōuyuè) — Corner Month
寅月 (yínyuè) — Tiger Month
2. 二月 (èr yuè) — Second Month
杏月 (xìngyuè) — Apricot Month
卯月 (mǎoyuè) — Rabbit Month
3. 三月 (sān yuè) — Third Month
桃月 (táoyuè) — Peach Month
辰月 (chényuè) — Dragon Month
4. 四月 (sì yuè) — Fourth Month
梅月 (méiyuè) — Plum Flower Month
巳月 (sìyuè) — Snake Month
5. 五月 (wǔ yuè) — Fifth Month
榴月 (liúyuè) — Pomegranate Flower Month
午月 (wǔyuè) — Horse Month
6. 六月 (liù yuè) — Sixth Month
荷月 (héyuè) — Lotus Month
未月 (wèiyuè) — Goat Month
7. 七月 (qī yuè) — Seventh Month
兰月 (lányuè) — Orchid Month
申月 (shēnyuè) — Monkey Month
8. 八月 (bā yuè) — August
桂月 (guìyuè) — Osmanthus Month
酉月 (yǒuyuè) — Rooster Month
9. 九月 (jiǔ yuè) — September
菊月 (júyuè) — Chrysanthemum Month
戌月 (xūyuè) — Dog Month
10. 十月 (shí yuè) — October
露月 (lùyuè) — Dew Month
亥月 (hàiyuè) — Pig Month
11. 十一月 (shíyī yuè) — November
冬月 (dōngyuè) — Winter Month
子月 (zǐyuè) — Rat Month
12. 腊月 (làyuè) — End-of-the-Year Month, Preserved Meat Month
冰月 (bīngyuè) — Ice Month
丑月 (chǒuyuè) — Ox Month
The Calendar Months in Chinese
Now that you know a little bit about the Chinese calendar, let’s talk in terms that are more familiar to us. Here’s what the Gregorian calendar months are in Chinese, with supplementary details, such as national holidays and special Chinese dates. National holidays based on the lunar calendar are noted with 2021 dates.
一月 (yī yuè) — January
Although the big celebration in China is Lunar New Year, the Chinese government recognizes January 1 as a public holiday.
January 1: 新年 (xīnnián) — New Year’s Day
二月 (èr yuè) — February
Depending on the lunar calendar, the date for Chinese New Year can vary between the end of January to mid-February. For 2021, all lunar New Year-related celebrations will fall in February. While the official dates for the Spring Festival are over after a week, celebrations usually continue for another week, ultimately ending with the Lantern Festival.
February 11: 除夕 (chúxì) — Lunar New Year’s Eve
February 12: 元旦 (yuándàn) — Lunar New Year’s Day
February 11-17: 春节 (chūnjié) — Spring Festival, Chinese New Year
February 26 (Lunar Month 1 Day 15): 元宵节 (yuánxiāo jié) — Lantern Festival
三月 (sān yuè) — March
March marks the first month of spring in China.
四月 (sì yuè) — April
The next public holiday after Chinese New Year is the Qingming Festival, where people pay their respects to their deceased ancestors.
April 4: 清明节 (qīng míng jié) — Qingming Festival, or Tomb Sweeping Day
五月 (wǔ yuè) — May
The two most notable dates in May include Labor Day and the fairly recent addition of Chinese Internet Valentine’s Day. The numbers 5.20 in Mandarin is a homophone of 我爱你 (wǒ ài nǐ), meaning “I love you” in Chinese.
May 1: 劳动节 (láodòng jié) — Labor Day
May 20: 五二零 (wǔ èr líng) — 5.20, or Chinese Internet Valentine’s Day
六月 (liù yuè) — June
June marks the beginning of summer in China. The main holiday of the month is the Dragon Boat Festival, which is also sometimes referred to as Poet’s Day.
June 1: 六一儿童节 (liùyī értóng jié) — (6.1) Children’s Day
June 14 (Lunar Month 5 Day 5): 端午节 (duān wǔ jié) — Dragon Boat Festival
June 21: 夏至 (xiàzhì) — Xiazhi Festival, Summer Solstice
七月 (qī yuè) — July
Early July is the start of the summer holidays for schools.
八月 (bā yuè) — August
August is full of observed holidays. For Army Day, soldiers usually get a half day off. Although they do recognize International Fathers’ Day, China does have a day of their own. Because the date, 8.8 or 八八 (bābā), which is a homophone of 爸爸 (bà bà), meaning “dad,” August 8 seemed like an appropriate date to celebrate all the fathers out there.
Other notable days include Chinese Valentine’s Day, as well as the Ghost Festival, the day that spirits are said to roam the Earth.
August 1: 建军节 (jiàn jūn jié) — People’s Liberation Army Day
August 8: 父亲节 (fù qīn jié) — Chinese Fathers’ Day
August 14 (Lunar Month 7 Day 7): 七夕节 (qīxì jié) — Qixi Festival, Double Seventh Festival, Chinese Valentine’s Day
August 22 (Lunar Month 7 Day 15): 中元节 (zhōng yuán jié) — Zhongyuan Festival, Ghost Festival
九月 (jiǔ yuè) — September
September marks the beginning of fall in China. All schools resume classes by early September. The big holiday of the month is the Mid-Autumn Festival, which is sometimes referred to as the Mooncake Festival.
September 11 (Lunar Month 8 Day 15): 中秋节 (zhōngqiū jié) — Mid-Autumn Festival
十月 (shí yuè) — October
The second biggest holiday in China is National Day, which marks the beginning of the Golden Week. Another holiday in October is the Double Ninth Festival, an ancient holiday that involved drinking chrysanthemum wine and climbing mountains or towers.
October 1: 国庆日 (guóqìng rì) — National Day
October 1-7: 黄金周 (huángjīn zhōu) — Golden Week
October 14 (Lunar Month 9 Day 9): 重阳节 (chóngyáng jié) — Chongyang Festival, Double Ninth Festival
十一月 (shíyī yuè) — November
With the number 11 resembling bare sticks, 11.11 first came about as an anti-Valentine’s Day, which began in Nanjing University back in the ’90s. It has since grown to be the biggest online shopping event in the country and beyond.
November 11: 光棍节 (guānggùn jié) — Double 11, Singles’ Day, Bachelors’ Day
十二月 (shí’èr yuè) — December
December marks the beginning of the winter season in China, with the 21st being the winter solstice.
December 21 (Lunar Month 11 Day 15): 冬至 (dōngzhì) — Dongzhi Festival, Winter Solstice
Useful Phrases for Discussing the Months in Chinese
We’ve covered the major holidays in China and the months in Chinese—what else is there to learn? Now that you know how to say the months, let’s go over date notation, as well as vocabulary related to monthly appointments and such.
Proper Date Notation in Chinese
To say the date in Chinese, you’ll need to know the following words:
年 (nián) — year
月 (yuè) — month
日 (rì) — day
Think big to small when writing or saying the date in Chinese. Thus, start by saying the year, month and then day.
If your birthday is July 15, 1990, your birthday in Chinese would be 一九九零年七月十五日 (yījiǔjiǔ líng nián qī yuè shíwǔ rì), which you can simplify to 1990年7月15日.
Alternatively, you can say 号 (hào) instead of 日 when talking about the date. 号 is much more common in spoken Chinese.
What if you want to talk about nonspecific dates or ongoing events? Below are some key vocabulary for discussing appointments, past and future events, as well as recurring commitments.
Talking about previous months:
上(个)月 (shàng [gè] yuè) — last month
上(个)月初 (shàng [gè] yuèchū) — early last month
上(个)月下旬 (shàng [gè] yuè xiàxún) — late last month
六个月前 (liù gè yuè qián) — six months ago
Discussing this month:
这(个)月 (zhè[gè] yuè) — this month
本月 (běn yuè) — current/this month
本月初 (běn yuèchū) — early this month
本月晚些时候 (běn yuè wǎn xiē shíhòu) — later this month
Planning for the following months:
下(个)月 (xià [gè] yuè) — next month
下(个)月初 (xià [gè] yuèchū) — early next month
下(个)月下旬 (xià [gè] yuè xiàxún) — late next month
六个月后 (liù gè yuè hòu) — in six months time, six months from now
每(个)月 (měi [gè] yuè) — every month
每月一次 (měi yuè yīcì) — monthly
双月 (shuāng yuè) — bimonthly, every two months, every other month
半月刊 (bànyuèkān) — semimonthly, twice a month
每六个月一次 (měi liù gè yuè yīcì) — once every six months
每月五日/号 (měi yuè wǔ rì/hào) — every fifth of the month
每年二月 (měinián èr yuè) — every February
And there you have it! Now, not only can you write and talk about the date in Chinese, but you can also have discussions about events relative to specific months, such as Chinese holidays. You can even talk about the basics of the Chinese lunar/solar calendar if it ever comes up in conversation!
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