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East Asian age reckoning

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Title: East Asian age reckoning  
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Collection: Chinese Culture, East Asian Culture, Japanese Culture, Korean Culture, Vietnamese Culture
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East Asian age reckoning

Dol, the traditional way of celebrating a birthday of a one-year old child in South Korea.

East Asian age reckoning is a concept and practice that originated in China and is widely used by other cultures in East Asia. Newborns start at one year old, and at the beginning of lichun (usually February 4th, sometimes February 5th) which is the first of the 24 solar terms, one year is added to the person's age. In other words, the first year of life is counted as one instead of zero, so that a person is two years old in their second year, three years old in their third, and so on.[1][2] Since age is incremented on the beginning of solar term rather than on a birthday, people may be one or two years older in Asian reckoning than in the Western system.


  • Variations in Date for Change of Age 1
  • Chinese 2
  • Japanese 3
  • Korean 4
  • See also 5
  • Footnotes 6
  • References 7
  • External links 8

Variations in Date for Change of Age

In China, the age changes on the first day of lichun, which is the first solar term of the 24 solar terms, which usually falls some time on 4th of February, though sometimes it falls on the 5th as well.[3] The current age reckoning system in use in South Korea is based on the Gregorian Calendar, though originally Koreans also followed lichun as the beginning of the year and also the date for change of age.

In Eastern Outer Mongolia, age is traditionally determined based on the number of full moons since conception for girls, and the number of new moons since birth for boys.[4]

In Japan, Vietnam, and South Korea, lichun as the date for change of age is used for traditional fortune-telling or religion.

The idea of a universal birthday disappeared from all of Sinosphere, China and Japan having switched over to the western age reckoning system, with the sole exception of Korea, though the universal birthday shifted from lichun to New Year's Day.


In either the traditional or modern age system, the word sui (traditional Chinese: ; simplified Chinese: ; pinyin: suì), meaning "years of age", is used for age counting. When a person's age is given in a publication, it is often specified whether that is his or her traditional age (traditional Chinese: 虛歲; simplified Chinese: 虚岁; pinyin: xūsuì) or modern age (traditional Chinese: 周歲; simplified Chinese: 周岁; pinyin: zhōusùi) or shisui (traditional Chinese: 實歲; simplified Chinese: 实岁; pinyin: shísùi).[5]

When a child has survived one month of life (29 days if lunar month reckoning) a mun yuet (Chinese: 滿月; pinyin: mǎnyuè) celebration can be observed in which duck or chicken eggs dyed red are distributed to guests to signify fertility.


Japanese uses the word sai ( or ) as a counter word for both the traditional and modern age system.

The traditional system of age reckoning, or kazoedoshi (数え年), was rendered obsolete by law in 1902 when Japan officially adopted the Western system,[6][7][8] known in Japanese as man nenrei (満年齢). However, the traditional system was still commonly used, so in 1950 another law was established to encourage people to use the Western system.[9][10][11]

Today the traditional system is mainly used by the elderly. Elsewhere its use is limited to traditional ceremonies, divinations, and obituaries.


Koreans generally refer to their age in units called sal (살), using Korean numerals in ordinal form. Thus, a person is one sal ("han sal", 한살) during the first calendar year of life, and ten sal during the tenth calendar year.[12]

The 100th-day anniversary of a baby is called baegil (백일), which literally means "a hundred days" in Korean, and is given a special celebration, marking the survival of what was once a period of high infant mortality. The first anniversary of birth named dol (돌) is likewise celebrated, and given even greater significance. Koreans celebrate their birthdays,[13] even though every Korean gains one 'sal' on New Year's Day.[14] Because the first year comes at birth and the second on the first day of the lunar New Year, a child born, for example, on December 29 (of the lunar calendar) will reach two years of age on Seollal (Korean New Year), when they are only days old in western reckoning.[15]

In modern Korea the traditional system is most often used. The international age system is referred to as "man-nai" (만나이) in which "man" (만) means "full"[16] or "actual", and "nai" (나이) meaning "age".[14][17] For example, man yeol sal means "full ten years", or "ten years old" in English. The Korean word dol means "years elapsed", identical to the English "years old", but is only used to refer to the first few birthdays. Cheotdol or simply dol refers to the first Western-equivalent birthday, dudol refers to the second, and so on.[18][19]

The Korean Birthday Celebrations by the lunar calendar is called eumnyeok saeng-il (음력 생일, 陰曆生日) and yangnyeok saeng-il (양력 생일, 陽曆生日) is the birthday by Gregorian calendar.[20]

For official government uses, documents, and legal procedures, a chronological age system is used akin to the system used in Western countries. Regulations regarding age limits on beginning school, on alcohol and tobacco use, as well as the age of consent, are all based on a chronological system (man-nai).[17][21]

See also


  1. ^ Shi Liwei (30 April 2009). "Why Chinese People Have a Nominal Age". Retrieved 11 November 2009. 
  2. ^ "98, 90 or 93? Expert sheds light on tycoon’s age".  
  3. ^ [1]
  4. ^ "In Korea, all children are older than their European peers".  
  5. ^ "中国人为何还有一个虚岁". Retrieved 24 January 2012. 
  6. ^ レファレンス事例詳細: 相-090002, Collaborative Reference Database. (Accessed 2009-11-11.) "なお、年齢が数えか満年齢かについては、現行法規である「年齢計算ニ関スル法律」が明治35年12月2日法律第50号として存在するが、その前に「明治六年第三十六号布告」で満年齢について規定された。 (translation: Whether one counts age the modern age system (満年齢) is described by the "Legal age calculation" law initiated Meiji 35 (1902), December 2, Act no. 50 exists prior to the "13 Years of Meiji 6 Proclamation No. 6" prescribed for the modern age system (満年齢).)"
  7. ^ "Act on Calculation of Ages"年齢計算ニ関スル法律 (in Japanese). Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications Japan. 1902. 
  8. ^ "Act on Calculation of Ages". Ministry of Justice, Japan. 1902. 
  9. ^ Hirofumi Hirano, July Heisei 40, 年齢の計算に関する質問主意書 (Memorandum on questions about the calculation of age), Japan House of Representatives. (Retrieved 2009-11-11) "わが国では、「年齢のとなえ方に関する法律」に基づき、昭和二十五年以降数え年による年齢計算を止め、満年齢によって年齢を計算している。 (translation: In Japan, the age laws which were originally based on the calculation by East Asian age reckoning (数え年) were replaced Twenty-five years after the Showa (1950) with the modern age system (満年齢) method of age calculation.)"
  10. ^ "Act on Counting of Ages"年齢のとなえ方に関する法律 (in Japanese). Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications Japan. 1949, effective in 1950. 
  11. ^ "Act on Counting of Ages". Ministry of Justice, Japan. 1949. 
  12. ^ Song, Jae Jung. (2005), p. 81-82, (quote) "Koreans prefer native Korean to Sino-Korean numerals when telling their own or other people's age,...Note that the native age classifier sal must be used with native Korean numerals and the Sino-Korean age classifier sey with Sino-Korean numerals,.."
  13. ^ DuBois (2004), pp. 72-73
  14. ^ a b Park, Hyunjoo; Pan, Yuling (2007-05-19). "Cognitive Interviewing with Asian Populations: Findings from Chinese and Korean Interviews".  
  15. ^ Sones, Bill; Sones, Rich (2006-12-28). "What are the special birthdays?".  
  16. ^ 만7(滿) (in Korean).  
  17. ^ a b Hilts and Kim, (2002), p.228 (quote) "Koreans have a peculiar way of calculating age. When you're born, you're already one year old, and then you get another year older when New Year's Day rolls around. The result is that your hangungnai (한국나이), 'Korean age', is usually one to tow years older than your man-nai (만 나이), 'actual age'. Under-age kids sometimes try to take some advantage of this, but eligibility for drinking, obtaining license etc is determined by your actual age."
  18. ^ 돌 [Dol] (in Korean).  
  19. ^ 돌1 [Dol] (in Korean).  
  20. ^ Kim Tae-yeop (김태엽) (2006-08-08). 8월 18일은 이승엽 DAY!'...요미우리, 축하 이벤트 마련" ['The day on August 18 is Lee Seung-Yeop's Day!'..Yomiuri, preparing a congratulatory event]'" (in Korean).  
  21. ^ "성년 成年, full age" (in Korean).  


  • DuBois, Jill (2004). Korea. 7 of Cultures of the world. Marshall Cavendish. pp. 72–73.  
  • Hilts, J. D.; Kim, Minkyoung (2002). Korean phrasebook.  
  • Song, Jae Jung (2005). The Korean language: structure, use and context.  

External links

  • Japanese kazoedoshi counting (archive link)
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