All ancient civilisations have their own slant of calendar record and almanacs in particular have been in existence since antiquity across the globe. The Chinese Almanac or “U”, is a book, or table, containing forecasts and outlook for the year.
In the beginning, its main purpose was to issue predictions which helped to prepare the populace for catastrophes to come. It also pointed to auspicious days of the year and periods associated with good fortunes. The traditional Chinese would use it as a source to consult on important dates for critical activities such as planting crops, harvesting, weddings, travel and renovations etc.
The book has its origin from then the ancient Chinese Imperial Calendar (Ä) which is an even older calendar attributed to the Yellow Emperor written in carapace-bone-script used by farmers and huntsmen. The earliest and complete Chinese almanac uncovered was written in 132BC during the Han Dynasty. Traditionally, Chinese rulers had taken over the publications of the almanac during their reign as a form of control and instructions over the populace. The Imperial Calendar itself had underwent numerous edition throughout the centuries, the latest being the version from Qing Dynasty called Tong Shu (f), which had since incorporated Feng Shui principles to become the Chinese almanac we know of today.
Many almanacs have adapted to survive, first by including astronomical data, then by concentrating on the physical rather than the metaphysical. The Chinese on the other hand, set store by their almanacs which still focus on the art of soothsaying. Every Chinese homes would have such a book which advises them when to undertake or avoid certain activities such as swimming, renovations, wedding, starting a new job etc and even for selecting an auspicious date for cesarean purposes.
The calculations used to create the Chinese almanac are based on the Heavenly stem and Earthly branch combinations of the Four Pillars readings of that time and are rather complicated. Of particular importance are the daily calculations of auspicious and inauspicious directions and the locations of key Feng Shui deities such as wealth and health. The readings are used to strategically locate items and perform activities that will harness the greatest amount of benefit to the family. Although modern Chinese no longer follow all the advices give, they still tend to consult the almanac on important occasion and avoid activities discouraged on that day.