In Taiwan, it seems that media is even more partisan than it is back in the States. Recently, the Liberty Times, a pro-Taiwan independence newspaper, suggested that English speakers not use the phrase “Chinese New Year” and that they replace it with “Lunar New Year. Here is an excerpt from the article:

范嘉芬提到農曆年,如果要用英文表達,幾乎絕大部份的人都會說成「Chinese New Year」(中國年),但這是錯的。正確的說法是Lunar New Year。

Fàn Jiāfēn observed of the agricultural new year, that if we use English to express it, most people say “Chinese New Year”, but this is an error. The correct way to say it is Lunar New Year.

因為太陰曆法(簡稱陰曆)依循的是月球運行週期所計算制定,所以如果要說成英文,就是Lunar(Moon) Calendar,過的新年就是Lunar New Year。而相對於此曆法當然就是以太陽之運轉為曆法計算基礎的太陽曆(Sun Calendar)了;也就是目前世界多數國家所通用遵循公元紀年,是根據阿拉伯的太陽曆法編製的。但使用到現在全世界沒有人會說是阿拉伯新年(Arabic New Year)。

Because the solar-lunar calendric system (the lunar year) uses the movement of the moon as the basis for its calculations, if we say it in English, we should use Lunar (Moon) Calendar, so new year is actually Lunar New Year. The solar calendar, in which the sun is used as the basis for calculation, is used by many countries, but it is originally based on an Arab solar calendar. However, currently nobody on earth calls it “Arabic New Year.”

全球不只一個國家在過農曆年,這並不是中國專屬的年節,所以不適合說是Chinese New Year。
(作者從事服務業)

Around the world more than one nation celebrates lunar new year. It is not appropriate to call it Chinese New Year.

This is absurd on a number of levels. Basically, they have two arguments- the first of which is very weak, and the second of which is irrelevant and misleading.

  1. Many countries celebrate Chinese New Year, not just China. Therefore you can’t call it “Chinese” New Year.
  2. We don’t call the solar new year, “Arabic New Year”, even though solar calendars were originally based on Arabic calendars.

The Gregorian and Julian Calendars

The Gregorian Calendar, currently used by most of the world was promulgated by Pope Gregory XIII in 1582, and it was based on the Julian Calendar. Russia and many eastern European countries remained on the the Julian Calendar until the earlier part of the 20th century, and some Orthodox churches use it still. The main problem with the Julian Calendar is that its years don’t quite stay in step with true solar years, which leads to a slow drift of the seasons. The Catholic Church was motivated to change the calendar, primarily so that people would celebrate Easter at the time selected by the First Council of Nicaea in 325. Both the Julian Calendar, introduced by Julius Caesar in 46 BC, and the Gregorian Calendar are tropical solar calendars. However, the Roman Calendar that preceded it was not.

The Roman Calendar

The term Roman Calendar itself, is a bit vague. There were a variety of systems used from the time of Romulus (about 753 BC) until the time of Caesar. Earlier Roman calendars, including the one invented by Romulus (likely borrowed in part from the Greek Calendar), were lunar, not solar. There were 10 months, consisting of named Martius, Aprilis, Maius, Junius, Quintilis, Sextilis, September, October, November, and December. Only 304 days a year were on the calendar, and winter was not counted. Like most lunar calendars, the early Roman Calendar was rooted in agriculture.

We adopted Arabic numbers, not calendars

I honestly cannot think of a way in which Fàn Jiāfēn or the Liberty Times can consider the calendar currently in use to be directly rooted in Arabic calendars, or that that there is any sort of justification for calling it a Arabic calendar as opposed to a Roman or even a Greek calendar. Either they don’t know or care much about the history themselves, or they are deliberately using an argument from fallacy, and betting that their readers won’t notice. Simply knowing that 1) the earliest solar calendars were Arabic, and 2) the Gregorian Calendar is Arabic does not substantiate the claim that the Gregorian calendar was based on an Arabic system. It just distracts people from the real issues.

Why Lunar New Year is a poor way to describe Chinese New Year

Aside from the inherent disadvantages of political correctness in general, Lunar New Year is a terrible term to replace Chinese New Year. Not only is it less likely to be understood by the average English speaker, but it’s more ethnocentric than the term Chinese New Year. It may come as a surprise to some, but the Chinese Calendar is not the only lunar calendar! Many, many cultures have developed lunar calendars. Like the Chinese Calendar, the Hebrew, Tamil, and Hindu calendars are all lunisolar calendars. The Islamic Calendar is a purely lunar calendar and is deserving of the mantle of the lunar calendar, if any is. Furthermore, many traditional holidays are based on non-Chinese lunar calendars, including one with which every native English speaker is familiar- Easter.

Why Chinese New Year is Chinese New Year

The Chinese New Year isn’t celebrated in many countries due to a fluke in calendar systems. It’s celebrated by Chinese people all over the world because it’s a part of Chinese culture. Some traditions have carried over to nearby parts of the world, such as Korea, but due to the fact that people are celebrating the same day of the same calendar in a similar way, and the fact that China, Vietnam, and Korea have been culturally and economically intertwined for millennia, it would take extraordinary evidence to convince people that they don’t have a common root.

Once again, from the article:

Around the world more than one nation celebrates lunar new year. It is not appropriate to call it Chinese New Year.

It bothers partisan newspapers to use the word “Chinese” when talking about anything shared by Taiwan. They would do well to think on one fact. The language that most people, including their own writers frequently refer to as “Chinese” is used not only in mainland China and here in Taiwan, but also in Singapore and by emigrants all over the world. Will the paper try to find a politically acceptable replacement for the “Chinese” language too?

Michael Turton’s analysis was best– renaming “Chinese New Year” is about on par with renaming French fries as “freedom fries” or sauerkraut as “victory cabbage”.


Wikipedia: the Julian Calendar
Romana: Encyclopaedia the Roman Calendar