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Chinese New Year and the Almanac 2

Yearly calculated almanacs based on the traditional calendar have been produced by the Bureau of Astronomy/Astrology since ancient times, modeled upon the classic called the Monthly Ordnances (Yueling). The making of the almanac was the privilege of state power and a crucial function, by which the Son of Heaven would show his ability to read the cosmos and bring order to the empire. The almanacs were so precious that they were transported in sedan chairs and greeted with prostrations before being distributed to the highest officials; more simple versions were available to the public.

These almanacs remain immensely popular today in Hong Kong, Taiwan and Singapore. Each family may have a copy of the almanac, often termed the ‘Know All Book’ (Tongshu), comparable in significance to the Christian bible. No diviner, priest or fortune-teller would be without it. In China proper, where almanacs were prohibited during the communist era while illegal copies circulated in rural areas, they are now again commonly available and are gaining significance. English versions are now also produced and widely distributed in the West.

The Chinese almanac, which is still printed in a string-bound format with ancient wood-block illustrations, contains an astonishing variety of information. It is the one solid guide to living ‘correctly’ through the year, making use of propitious universal forces while avoiding all bad ones or offending gods and spirits. The largest section of the almanac, however, is an ancient text that does not change from year to year, even though there are regional differences. It is useful for everyday life, in accordance with tradition, including instructions for health problems, lists of herbal medicine, notes and illustrations on baby care, help in choosing a child’s name, knowledge on particular gods and deities and sections on the interpretation of dreams, of which there are many distinct types relating to the classical tradition of mountains, trees, silk and emperors. Both the Hong Kong and Taiwan versions include large sections on omens and their interpretation as well as on the writing of magic spells for every type of problem that may haunt mankind, secular and spiritual alike. There are spells for various forms of sickness and pains, for driving away evil spirits, for keeping away wild animals, for bad habits in the family such as drinking and gambling and for a host of other problems.

 

Chinese New Year Preperation at Jin De Yuan Temple