Tong Sheng, the Chinese Almanac Calendar
The traditional Chinese Almanac could perhaps be the oldest encyclopedia in the world as some authorities believed that it has been in publication since 2250 BC.
It consists of a fascinating collection of information that includes astronomy, astrology, predictions, divination systems, fortune-telling, palmistry, physiognomy face-reading, dream interpretations, folklores, geomancy, pregnancy chart, charms, herbal medicine, moral teachings, etc.
The Almanac is generally credited to the legendary emperor, Huang Di. As such, it is known as Huang Li (皇历) – huang means 'emperor' and li 'calendar'.
After the 1911 Xinhai Revolution that ended imperialism in China, the calendar was still pronounced as Huang Li but written differently. The original Chinese character ‘huang’ (皇) was replaced by the homophonous character (黄) which means ‘yellow’.
Its form has undergone numerous changes throughout the ages. Many talented Chinese astrologers and soothsayers have made their contributions in the compilation of the Almanac which contains essential knowledge, especially in regard to divination, agriculture, diet and health.
The versions produced in Hong Kong and Taiwan are believed to have originated from two Qing Dynasty versions. In recent years, some feng shui masters have also designed their own Tong Sheng.
The Almanac is commonly called “Farmers’ Calendar” because it contains essential information on seasons, weather, times of sowing and harvesting, etc. It served as a guide to agricultural planning in China in ancient days.
In different regions of China, it can be known as Old Emperor’s Calendar, Old Yellow Calendar, Chinese Lunar Calendar, or some other names.
In Cantonese-speaking regions, the calendar used to be called “Tong Shu” (通书), meaning that it is a “Know Everything Book”.
However, some Cantonese later began to refer to it as Tong Sheng (通胜）or Tong Shun (通顺) as “Shu” (书) sounds like the words “lost or defeated” (输). “Sheng” means “won or victory” and “Shun” means “smooth”. Both names imply good luck in everything.
The Chinese Almanac contains an extensive collection of traditional Chinese belief and practices. Most of the contents remain the same every year. Only some sections, such as the feng shui chart and calendar, have to be changed for each year.
The following contents can be found in a traditional Chinese Almanac, in one version or another:
(1) Spring Cow Picture (春牛图)
(2) Mother Earth’s predictions for the year (地母经)
(3) Who should avoid the final phase of burial (太岁压祭主)
(4) Twenty-four solar terms (二十四节气)
(5) Auspicious dates for farming activities
(6) Feng shui chart showing the auspicious and inauspicious directions for the year.
(7) The daily 28 Constellations 二十八宿值日吉凶
(8) Charts of the 28 Constellations （二十八分季藏象）
(9) The 9 stars that affect one’s life from the age of 10 (九星图像)
(10) 100 Years Chart (百岁图)
(11) Past 200 years in both Chinese & Western Calendars
(12) Hours of the day, both in Chinese and in English
(13) Similarities and differences between the Solar Calendar and the Lunar Calendar
(14) Chinese Foetal Chart and charms for the protection of the foetus
(15) Daily position of the baby god or foetal spirit (六甲胎神)
(16) 26 kinds of ‘guan sha’ (dangers or crisis) affecting kids (二十六关煞)
(17) Date selection method of Grandmaster Dong (董公)
(18) Date selection method of Grandmaster Gui Gou Zi (鬼谷先师)
(19) Huang Di’s Poem of the Four Seasons (轩辕黄帝四季诗)
(20) Grandmaster Chou’s Dream Interpretations (周公解梦吉凶书)
(21) Liu Bo Wen’s Biscuit Poem or Shaobing Song (刘伯温烧饼歌)
(22) Zhu Ge’s fortune-telling (诸葛神数)
(23) Divination by coins (金钱卦)
(25) Fortune-telling based on Chinese Birth Weight (称骨歌)
(26) Fortune-telling based on the number of strokes in one’s Chinese name
(27) Chinese physiognomy
(29) Fortune-telling based on physical sensations such as sudden eye or muscle twitching, ear ringing, ear or face suddenly feeling warm, sudden sneezing, and feeling uneasy or frightened for no reason.
(30) Fortune-telling based on things such as a dog barking, unusual noise from a pot in the midst of cooking, unusual fire sparks from a burning stove, noises from magpie, and one’s clothing being torn by a sharp object, leaving a piece of the torn fabric behind.
(31) Charms of Zhang Tian Shi (张天师)
(32) Different types of charms
(33) Traditional Medicine and Prescriptions
(34) Hundred Family Surnames (百家姓)
(35) Zhu Zhijiageyan (Home management guide) (朱子治家格言)
(37) Preparation list for wedding ceremonies
(38) Pronunciation of common English words
The core of the Chinese Almanac is the calendar and is found at the end of the Almanac. Lots of information is contained therein.
For each day, the calendar will indicate:
(1) The Western calendar date
(2) Auspicious Spirits (吉神)
(3) Auspicious and inauspicious hours
(4) Unsuitable activities
(5) Chinese lunar date
(6) Heavenly Stem and Earthly Branch (干支)
(7) Na Yin Wu Xing (纳音五行)
(8) The daily 28 constellations
(9) The Twelve Day Spirits (建除十二神)
(10) Suitable activities
(11) Malevolent stars (煞星)
(12) The 10 Unlucky Spirits (十神隔) on the right and Bright Door Stars (门光星) on the left of the column
(13) Position of the Foetal Spirit (每日游胎占处)
Being a Farmers’ Calendar, it also contains essential information on the weather, seasons, birds and agricultural insects, etc.
The favourable and unfavourable dates for house renovation are under Section 12 of the calendar. Selection of the auspicious dates is based on the Bright Door Stars, as indicated in the Classic of Luban (鲁班经).
With its myriad of contents, the Chinese Almanac Tong Sheng can be described as a sophisticated compilation of ancient systems that concern or foretell many aspects of one’s life.
Even to this day, many Chinese families still refer to the Tong Sheng for auspicious dates for important events such as wedding ceremonies, moving into a new home, starting a business, when to resume business after the Chinese New Year holidays, burial, etc.