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East Asian age reckoning

East Asian age reckoning

East Asian age reckoning originated in China and continues in limited use there along with Tibet and Japan, but is still common in Korea. People are born at the age of one, i.e. the first year of lifetime using an ordinal number, and on Chinese New Year or New Years Day one year is added to their age. Since age is incremented at the beginning of the lunar or solar year, rather than on the anniversary of a birthday, people may be one or two years older in Asian reckoning than in the international age system.


1. Variations in date for change of age

Under the traditional reckoning in China, age changes on the first day of Chinese New Year. In Japan and South Korea, New Years Day is used as the date of change of age for the traditional system.


2. China and Taiwan

In either the traditional or modern age system the word sui traditional Chinese: 歲 ; simplified Chinese: 岁 ; pinyin: suì, meaning "years of age", is used for age counting. When a persons age is given in a publication, it is often specified whether it his or her:

  • Traditional age, "virtual age" traditional Chinese: 虛歲/齡 ; simplified Chinese: 虚岁/龄 ; pinyin: xūsuì/ling based on the East Asian reckoning system
  • Modern age, "round age" traditional Chinese: 周歲 ; simplified Chinese: 周岁 ; pinyin: zhōusùi
  • "Real age", traditional Chinese: 實歲 ; simplified Chinese: 实岁 ; pinyin: shisùi based on the Gregorian calendar

Of the three, only 周歲/周岁 Chinese, zhōusuì pinyin = "round age" may be used as a count word.

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


3. Japan

The traditional Japanese system of age reckoning, or kazoedoshi 数え年, lit. "counted years", which incremented ones age on New Years Day, was rendered obsolete by law in 1902 when Japan officially adopted the modern age system, 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 modern age system.

Today the traditional system is used only by the elderly and in rural areas. Elsewhere its use is limited to traditional ceremonies, divinations, and obituaries.

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


4. Korea

Koreans who use the traditional system 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.

The 100th-day anniversary of a baby is called baegil 백일, 百日 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. South Koreans celebrate their birthdays, even though every South Korean gains one sal on New Years Day. Because the first year comes at birth and the second on the first day of the New Year, children born, for example, on December 29 will reach two years of age on the New Years Day, when they are only days old. Hence, everyone born on the same calendar year effectively has the same age and can easily be calculated by the formula: Age = Current Year − Birth Year + 1

In modern South Korea the traditional system is used alongside the international age system which is referred to as "man-nai" 만나이 in which "man" 만 means "full" or "actual", and "nai" 나이 meaning "age". 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.

The traditional system has not been used in modern North Korea since the 1980s. South Korea is now considered as the only country that uses the East Asian age in the world and the term itself is well known as "Korean age" globally, rather than the East Asian age.

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. In the past, most people used the lunar calendar, eumnyeok saeng-il, to tell their birthday more than the Gregorian calendar yangnyeok saeng-il but nowadays Koreans, especially young generations tend to use yangnyeok saeng-il for telling their birthdates.

For official government uses, documents, and legal procedures, the international system is used. Regulations regarding age limits on beginning school, as well as the age of consent, are all based on this system man-nai. The age limit for tobacco, alcohol use are after January 1 of the year ones age turns to 19.


5. Eastern Mongolia

In Eastern 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.

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