Date and Time in Chinese
Once you have mastered the numbers 0 to 9 you are well on the way to telling the date and time in Chinese.
Numbers are used for the names of the days of the week and also the months (with a couple of exceptions).
The history and structure of many common Chinese characters
is a fascinating study. In this section we look in details at a few hundred of them.
Weekdays are simply the two characters for 'weekday' followed by the number of the day in the week.
Sounds like: hshing this has no direct equivalent in English. (1st tone)
The character for star is a combination of 日 rì
(see following) above the character for 生 shēng
produce. It gives the idea of stars
as stellar fragments.
Sounds like: tchee, an identical sound to 七 qī for 7. (1st tone)
A phase is linked to the 'phase of the moon
' and therefore appropriate for weekdays (the traditional calendar synchronized the dates with the moon). The moon 月 yuè
forms the second part of the character. Putting this together 星期 xīng qī
is a weekday
. There are no special weekday names to learn except for Sunday. As in Latin, French, English and nearly all cultures the seventh day of the week in China is named after the Sun.
Sounds like: ruh the 'r' sound is not the same as in English. (4th tone)
The character for sun
is an ancient pictogram, it is derived from a round circle with an 'all seeing' eye in the middle. Following the simplifying convention for drawing characters
this has become a box with the dot becoming a line. When combined with 期 qī
the characters 日期 rì qī
means 'date', a day in the year.
is a potent symbol, and is the embodiment of ‘yang’
in nature. Associated with the East (from where it rises) and the Emperor
. Solar Eclipses were important events, and were often seen as showing heaven's displeasure at the Emperor's rule
. The importance of the sun in China can be appreciated from its place in the Maoist Anthem 'The East is Red; the Sun rises.' ➚
heaven; sky; day
Sounds like: tyan as in Christian. (1st tone)
The character looks like big 大 dà
with an extra line to indicate the sky
above it. 天下 tiān xià
heaven) has been used as a name for China
from the earliest days. The character for sky
can be used in place of ri
So the complete set of weekdays is:
xīng qī yī
xīng qī èr
xīng qī sān
xīng qī sì
xīng qī wǔ
xīng qī liù
xīng qī rì
xīng qī tiān
Days and Months
Learning the numbers
in Chinese is easier than in many other languages. In our complete guide to the numbers we include the traditions associated them. Do you know why 4 was unlucky but 8 lucky?
China adopted the Gregorian / Western calendar at the foundation of the Republic of China on 1st January 1912 but it took many years before the traditional Chinese calendar fell out of use and it is still used to fix the date for some festivals. Days of the month used to be given different names but are now expressed as numbers.
Sounds like: you-eh. (4th tone)
The character is derived from the shape of the crescent moon
on its side. The Chinese character for month is named after moon
just as in English and all other cultures as a month is the lunar cycle. It is the opposite to sun in the yin-yang
system. The moon is the epitome of ‘yin’ - cool and feminine. It symbolizes the Empress rather than the Emperor. The autumn Moon Festival
is still observed when many 'moon cakes' are consumed.
The Chinese written character for ‘day’ is 日 rì but in speech the alternative 号 hào is used for day. The order for dates in Chinese is to give the year followed by month and then day.
二月三日 èr yuè sān rì
十一月二十四日 shí yī yuè èr shí sì rì
A pavilion located at Nan Liang Garden in Hong Kong
In the modern calendar, years are given as numbers without the units for 'thousands', 'hundreds' and 'tens', the digits are just read out in turn with the addition of the character for 'year' after the complete number. In the old calendar years were recorded as the sexagesimal number of the Emperor's reign, see Traditional Calendar for more on this.
Sounds like: start of nyan (2nd tone)
Originally the character was of a man carrying a sheaf of harvested corn - the culmination of a year of toil. Over the years the character nian
for year has changed so the symbolism is not so easy to see. The 年 nián
monster is the subject of the fable about the Spring Festival (Chinese New Year)
一九六六年 yī jiǔ liù liù nián
二零一四年 èr líng yī sì nián
Hours and minutes can be given as numbers as in English. All Chinese clocks show the time in Arabic numerals and it is written down this way too. However just as in English there are some special phrases for half hours, quarters and expressing time to the next hour. Originally the Chinese had twelve divisions of a day 时辰 shí chen and the double hours were named after the twelve earthly branches. There was also an early system of dividing the day into 100 divisions of 14.4 minutes : a 刻 kè.
The simplest form way to give the time is as a decimal number hours '.' minutes. The dot character in Chinese is diǎn, it is short for the full term 点钟 diǎn zhōng clock. The time is followed by the character fēn to indicate minutes. If the context makes it clear this is a time of day then fen can be left out.
Sounds like: dyan with a drop of tone in the middle (3rd tone)
The origin of the character goes back to the method of divination using the splits of tortoise shells
to foretell the future. The modern form retains the idea of fire
symbolized by the four dots underneath the character for divination.
Sounds like: fun rather than fen. (1st tone)
The character is made up of two parts (divide
) both giving the idea of cutting and division. Fen
is also used for the smallest division of currency
Time in China
All of China is in the same timezone ➚. It is 8 hours ahead of UCT (GMT).
Here are a couple of examples of times in Chinese.
十点四六分 shí diǎn sì liù fēn
十一点一八分 shí yī diǎn yī bā fēn
One more little strange rule is needed, it was mentioned that there are two forms of the number 2 : èr and liǎng. As two hours are considered a couple of hours rather than 2 hours it is written with liǎng not èr.
两点零五分 liǎng diǎn líng wǔ fēn
Time of Day
The Chinese do not use the 24 hour clock, so afternoon, morning or evening need to be added to specify the time of day. These phrases include:
Early morning (before 8a.m.)
早上 zǎo shàng
it means early up
Morning (8a.m. to midday)
上午 shàng wǔ
it means above noon
Lunchtime (midday to 1p.m.)
中午 zhōng wǔ
it means middle noon
Afternoon (1p.m. to 6p.m.)
下午 xià wǔ
it means below noon
Evening (7p.m. to midnight.)
晚上 wǎn shàng
it means late up
Date and time
Here is an example putting together a full date and time. The order is always longest units first, and the time of day is put before the hours.
4:23 p.m. on 17th August 2015
èr líng yī wǔ nián bā yuè shí qī rì xià wǔ sì diǎn èr sān fēn
diǎn点 dot; spot
fēn分 division; part
shàng wǔ上午 Morning (8a.m. to midday)
tiān天 heaven; sky; day
wǎn shàng晚上 Evening (7p.m. to midnight.)
xià wǔ下午 Afternoon (1p.m. to 6p.m.)
yuè月 moon; month
zǎo shàng早上 Early morning (before 8a.m.)
zhōng wǔ中午 Lunchtime (midday to 1p.m.)
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