14 Οκτωβρίου 2015

The New Millennium.

The New Millennium
Henry C. K. Liu

The year 2000 marks two chronological events in the Western Calendar: a new millennium and a new century. Its celebration marks the global dominance of Western culture in the 20th century. The millennium is merely year 4398 in Chinese lunar calendar - a nonevent.

Chinese culture has its own system of chronology. The lunar calendar that was introduced around 2200BC by the ancestors of the founders of the Xia dynasty (2100-1600 BC), and was in continuous use since the Han dynasty from 206 BC. A solar calendar had been adopted in 1121 BC by the ancient Zhou dynasty (1027-256 BC). The solar calendar is generally 2 months ahead of the lunar calendar, but the difference is more than merely temporal. The adoption of calendar is a tour de force gesture of a grand sovereign and a political strategy of profound sophistication in a culture in which formal rituals reign supreme.

Wu Zetian, the only female sovereign in Chinese history, revived the ancient Zhou solar calendar in the 7th century. She exploited the political support of anti-Confucian Buddhists and the reform-minded litterati to institute political reforms that pointed toward the ancient Zhou dynasty, the model period in Chinese history that Confucius (551-479 B.C.) himself had declared as ideal.

Such paradoxical manipulations would survive to modern time in Chinese politics, the winners inevitably co-opting the previously denounced policies of the opposition losers, only with a passion in excess of that of their former enemies. It is a very Daoist behavior pattern. Such paradox tends to occur especially when ideology has been the pretext for power struggle, and the quest for power has been rationalized by presumed ideological orthodoxy. The re-adoption of the ancient Zhou solar calendar itself tends to weaken the in-place cultural conditioning since attached to customary Confucian rites that have proliferated over the centuries under the Xia lunar calendar.

The new solar calendar makes these obscure rituals seem less natural in the date-regulated habits of the populace, who for hundreds of generations have become accustomed to the lunar calendar. Over centuries, the Chinese people have unquestioningly accepted the ingrained but obscure Confucian rituals according to the Xia lunar calendar, even though the solar calendar of the ancient Zhou dynasty (1027-256 B.C.) has been considered more historically orthodox by Confucian scholars. Now a reversal, in the name of reverence for Confucian orthodoxy, would in fact liberate the public from obscure and obsolete Confucian ritual practices.

More than a millennium later, Otto von Bismark (1815-1898) employed a similar strategy, albeit for a reverse purpose. Bismark instituted sweeping social reforms to defuse radical domestic socialist pressure, and at the same time, to utilize the resultant economic growth to promote Prussian conservative objectives of German nationalism and empire building.

A later example in history than that of Wu Zetian, of calendar reform as political strategy, was the anti-clerical French Revolutionary Calendar, adopted on October 3, 1793 by radical populist Hebertists in their de-Christianization movement. It designated September 22, 1792, the founding date of the Republic, as Vendemiaire 1, Year I of the Republic of France, the first day of the new Revolutionary Calendar.

The French Revolutionary Calendar changed the names of the months to remove all reminders of despotic traditions, such as August, named after Roman Emperor Augustus; July, named after Julius Caesar and March (Mars in French), named after the Roman God of War. It would make all months 30 days equally to emphasize equality and rationality. The remaining 5 days of the year, called sans-culottides, after the name given to the members of the lower classes not wearing fancy culottes (breeches), would be feast days for the laboring class, called: Virtue, Genius, Labor, Reason and Rewards.

The new names for the months in the new calendar was invented by revolutionary dramatist Philippe Fabre d'Eglantine (1755-1794), Danton's talented secretary who wwas tragically guillotined in the prime age of 39, a mere 5 years after the storming of the Bastille, the popular uprising which launched the French Revolution.

The French Revolutionary Calendar would reject the year of the birth of Christ as the 1st year of anno Domini (year of our Lord). It would replace the 7-day week, viewed by revolutionary zealots as an obsolete Christian relic, with the metric 10-day decade, unwittingly causing a counterrevolutionary, regressive reduction in the number of days of rest for the working populace from 4 to 3 in a month. The overall purpose would be to remove from the cultural consciousness all Christian events such as Christmas, Easter, All Saints Day, the Sabbath, etc., as part of a program to replace Christianity with a Cult of Reason.

The French Revolutionary Calendar would remain in effect until the Thermidorian Reaction, a period of political revisionism, of vulgar extravagance in social manners, of greed and scandal and of merveilleuses: women known for their underdressed overdressing in public. The Thermidorian Reaction would be marked with growth of corruption, inflationary speculation and manipulative profiteering, suspension of populist economic regulations, topped with a wholesale repeal of de-Christianization practices.

The Thermidorian Reaction is so named because it came after the coup d'etat of 9 Thermidor, Year III of the Republic (July 27, 1794). It brought down Maximilien Robespierre (1758-1794), ending the reign of Terror, and brought to power a convenient coalition of the conservative old bourgeoisie and the boisterous parvenus and nouveaux riches, which would deliver the nation, another 5 years later, to a military dictator in the person of Napoleon.

The adoption of calendars, systems of reckoning the passage of time for historical, civil and religious purposes, is an indispensable prerequisite for human civilization.

From ancient time, man has organized his activities by the rhythm of day and night (the solar day), practiced his religious observances by the cyclical phases of the moon (the lunar month) and scheduled his agricultural efforts by the seasons (the tropical year).

These 3 fundamental cycles of chronology are: The solar day: the time it takes for the earth to rotate once on its axis, the cycle of individual functions such as meals and sleep; The lunar month: the time it takes to bring the moon again into the same position around the earth with relation to the sun, also known as the synodic month, the cycles for spiritual cognition; and The tropical year: the time it takes for the earth to circle the sun once, the cycle for seasonal work and record keeping.

These 3 cycles are mathematically incommensurable because while the lunar month is equal to approximately 29 solar days, yielding a 354-day year, the tropical year contains slightly less than 365 days, yielding months of 30.43 solar days. Many ingenious methods have been adopted by human societies to reconcile this incongruity.

Ancient calendars had generally been based primarily on lunar months that were fixed alternatively with 29 or 30 solar days, as required, to keep in step with the lunar phases and to avoid the introduction of fractional days. The lunar months were reconciled with the tropical year by the use of intercalation, the arbitrary insertion of an additional day or month to keep the calendar in accord with the cycle of the seasons. A modern version of intercalation would be the addition of February 29 on leap years.

As civilization became more complex and man's temporal perspective lengthened, calendars departed gradually from the pre-historic practice of adherence to lunar months. The tropical year then emerged as the fundamental basis of chronological reckoning and the month was retained only as a convenient subdivision.

The modern calendar in common use in most parts of the world, a broadly accepted convention no less arbitrary than other calendars, has its roots in Egypt. The Egyptian year was divided into 3 seasons of 4 months: Flood season, Seed season and Harvest season, as was natural to its geo-culture. As time went on, the Egyptian calendar year, shorter than the tropical year by a fraction of a day, gradually became out of sync with the seasons. The ancient Egyptians observed, however, that the flooding of the Nile consistently occurred at the time of the year when Sirius, the brightest star in the sky, rose in the east at sunrise.

Modern astronomy would identify Sirius as a double-star system 8.7 light years from the sun, in the constellation Canis Major. The ancient Egyptians were able to keep a record of the discrepancy between the calendar year and the seasons by observing the shifting of the date in their calendar of Sirius' heliacal rising, which is its first rising after invisibility due to conjunction with the sun.

Ancient Egyptians were quite accustomed to the shifting of the seasons with respect to the calendar year, as modern Christians would be about the arrival of Easter. The Egyptian calendar, the only ancient one reckoned by fixed rule, rather than by observation or local ordinance, was particularly suitable for dating historical astronomical records. It was used by Ptolemy, the celebrated Greco-Egyptian mathematician-astronomer, around 150 A.D, and preferred by Western astronomers until the 16th Century.

The Babylonian and Greek calendars were similarly lunar based, with an intercalary month introduced at irregular intervals in order to keep the calendar attuned to the cycle of the seasons. It is difficult and sometimes impossible to translate Babylonian dates into the modern calendar because the observation of the first crescent of the moon is affected by local factors that does not relate to astronomical reckoning and Babylonian records of intercalation were incomplete.

The Roman calendar was lunar at first with the pontifex maximus enjoying the power to proclaim intercalation. Julius Caesar (102-44 BC), by whose time the calendar had been so abused by the repeated use of intercalation for political purposes that January was falling in autumn, decided to reform Roman calendar on advice from the 1st-Century-B.C. Alexandrian astronomer, Sosigenes. To make up for past deficiencies, Caesar extended the length of the year 46 BC to 445 days, a sizable addition of 90 days to its normal 355-day-year. This caused spring to occur in March after 45 BC instead of the 1st month of the year as in ancient time. Thereafter, the Julian calendar stipulated common years of 365 days and an intercalary day added to February every 4th year.

Names were given to the 1st, 5th, 7th, 13th and 15th days of the month. Shakespeare would make famous the ides of March (the 15th day) in his play: Julius Caesar, in which a soothsayer warns the unheeding Caesar to be beware of the ides of March on which date he would meet with demise. An ambiguous expression in Caesar's edict on calendar reform led to the adding of an intercalary day every 3rd year until the mistake was discovered by Augustus (63 BC - 14 AD). Augustus then decreed all leap years to be omitted between 8 BC and 7 AD. to compensate for the error, after which the normal sequence was resumed uninterrupted until the Gregorian reform of 1582.

The 7-day week is a Judea-Christian religious rhythm that was superimposed on the Julian calendar after Constantine (288-337) adopted Christianity for the Roman Empire. In the Middle Ages, time, calendar and history were reckoned by the Christian scheme. Creation of the world was dated 4,484 years before 753 BC, the year of the founding of Rome by Romulus, and modern history from the birth of Christ. Historical events thereafter were chronicled by papal reigns, beginning with St Peter's, which was fixed at 42-67 AD. Current events were recorded in relation to religious holidays and saints' days. The year began in March - the month, according to Chaucer (1340-1400), "in which the world began, when God first made man."

Ecclesiastically, it began at Easter, the day of the resurrection of Christ, and because this was a shifting feast falling everywhere within a period of 30 days, historical dating was imprecise. Hours of the day were named for the hours of prayer: matins around midnight; lauds around 3 a.m.; prime the first hour of daylight, at sunrise or about 6 a.m.; vespers at 6 in the evening and compline at bedtime. The true length of the tropical year is 365.2422 days, or slightly less than the value adopted in the Julian calendar.

By the beginning of the 16th century, this discrepancy had caused the spring equinox to fall on March 11 instead of March 21, the date assumed in the ecclesiastical tables from which the date of Easter, the paramount Christian religious date, was computed. The Christian Ecclesiastical Calendar, with its shifting feasts, traces back to its reconciliation of the 7-day week tradition with the Roman calendar. The resurrection of Jesus allegedly took place on a Sunday, which had been the first day of the religious week rather than the last day of the weekend as in modern time.

The Bible places the Passion with relation to the Jewish Passover which falls on the evening of the 14th Nisan, the 7th month of the ecclesiastical year in the Jewish calendar. The New Year in the Jewish calendar is the first day of Tishri, falling between September and October in the Gregorian Calendar. Hence, Easter must fall on a Sunday nearest to the 14th Nisan. In 325, the first Council of Nicaea determined that Easter should fall on the Sunday following the full moon next after the vernal equinox which was considered by the Church to fall on March 21.

In the 6th Century in England, a protracted dispute developed among those Christians who had derived their rites from the Celts, and other Christians who had been converted as a result of the mission of St Augustine. The dispute focused on the Celts' having retained a computation for Easter based on a lunar cycle of 84 years while the St Augustine Christians had based theirs on a Roman cycle of 532 years since the 5th Century.

Finally, the synod of Whitby in 663 under King Oswy of Northumbria, one of the Anglo-Saxon Heptarchy (7-kingdom confederacy) in England, held in an abby founded by St. Hilda in 657, settled the dispute in favor of the Roman system. Whitby, a seaport at the mouth of the Esk in Yorkshire, North England, is where Captain James Cook (1728-1779) served as a shipbuilder's apprentice and where his ship, Resolution, was built. Cook, explorer of the Antarctic Ocean and discoverer of New Caledonia, was killed in 1779 by natives on the Hawaii Islands.

In 1582, to restore the agreement between the civil and the Christian ecclesiastical calendars, Pope Gregory XIII issued a papal bull in which he ordained that the day after Thursday, October 4 of that year be called Friday, October 15, making October 5-14, 1582 nonexistent in Western history, and that ensuing leap years would be omitted when they fall on centennial years not divisible by 400.

The Gregorian calendar would be adopted thereafter in all Catholic countries while the Protestant British territories, including her American colonies, would adopt it only in 1752. By then, the difference between the 2 calendars had increased to 11 days because 1700 being not a Gregorian leap year. Hence the British would accomplish the change by calling the day following September 2, September 14, thus rendering September 3-13, 1752 nonexistent in British history.

Washington's birthday which falls on February 11, 1731 O.S. (for Old Style or Julian), becomes February 22, 1732 N.S. (for New Style or Gregorian), since, in addition to the 11-day gap, the Old Style New Year's Day occurs usually on March 25 and the New Style New Year's Day occurs on January 1. Gradually, the use of N.S. would become unnecessary as the Gregorian calendar becomes universal. In the 20th century, the Julian calendar would be 13 days behind the Gregorian, because 1800 and 1900 were not leap years in the latter. In modern time, the Gregorian calendar would be in official use for civil purposes throughout the world.

A vestige of the Roman calendar is the name September which in Latin means the 7th month but in fact is the name of the 9th month in the Gregorian calendar.

China adopted the Gregorian calendar on January 1, 1912 after the founding of the Republic of China while the then newly-formed Soviet Union would adopt it on February 14, 1918 after the October Revolution. The Chinese lunar New Year's Day usually occurs between January 10 and February 19 of the Gregorian calendar.

The Chinese ancient Zhou dynasty (1027-256 B.C.) solar calendar (Zhou Li) has been devised to have 6 cycles each having 60 days. The 60-day cycle is divided into 6 periods (xun) of 10 days each, with 3 such periods making a month, yielding an even 30 day-day month and a 360-day nominal year. The xun (10-day period) is the basic unit in the Chinese calendar. A month is divided into upper period (shang xun), middle period (zhong xun) and lower period (xia xun).

By 5th Century BC, Chinese astronomers had calculated the solar year to be 365.2444 days (off by 0.0022 days) and the solar month at 29.53059 days. The years are arranged in major cycles of 60 years within which there are 12 minor cycles of 5 years each. The solar day is divided into 12 shichen periods each lasting 2 hours. An hour is known as a xiaoshi (minor shichen). The word wine (jiu) in Chinese is written by combining the root sign of water (shui) with the sign for the 10th shichen (you) which falls between 5-7 p.m. In other words, wine is the beverage drunk during the cocktail hours.

Calendar dates determine the rhythm and importance of social, religious and political rituals. As traditional dates in the lunar calendar are revised to fit the newly revived solar calendar, many of the elaborate rituals assocated with the old calendar dates are de-emphasized or eliminated, freeing society to adopt new rituals that are designed to reinforce the legitimacy and the reformed social values of the new political order. Through calendar reform, the social and political purposes of the reform agenda of the female ruler are enhanced.

The Chinese tradition of adopting the reign of an Emperor as the beginning of an era is not unique among human societies. The Athenians identified an era by its archon (chief magistrate) and the Romans identified it by its consul. The Japanese, having adopted the Chinese custom in the 6th Century, continue to date an era by the reign of their Heaven Emperor (Tianhuang).

In chronology, an era is a period reckoned from an artificially fixed point in time, as before or after the birth of Christ: BC for Before Christ and AD for anno Domini (year of the Lord). The best known points in Western historical time, beside the birth of Christ, are: The alleged creation of the world in Jewish mythical history which is equivalent to 3761 BC; and in Byzantine history, 5508 BC; The founding of the city of Rome in 753 BC, the year marked AUD for ad urbe condita (from the founding of the city); The hijira, the migration of the Mohammed to Medina from Mecca in 622 AD, abbreviate A.H. and the founding of the Olympic games in ancient Greece in 776 BC: time in Olympiads.

Chinese eras are marked by the name of reigns of individual sovereign in political dynasties. Many sovereigns adopt more than one reign, the beginning year of which being year I. The Republic of China continued this practice in 1912.

Since years are of different lengths in different calendars and do not begin on the same day, resulting in confusion and inaccurate calculations, there are frequent anomalies in dating in history. The most famous anomaly is the late setting of the beginning of the Christian era by the Roman monk-scholar Dionysius Exiguous (dc 545), thus putting the historical birth of Christ at 4 BC, 4 years before the calendar birth year of Christ.

Chinese history generally accepts the reign of the Yellow Emperor (Huangdi 2700-2600 BC) as its beginning point but the ancient reign falls in the category of legend. The Xia dynasty (2100-1600 B.C.) was reportedly founded in 2205 BC but even while it was a period in which a calendar was reportedly adopted, its chronological authenticity has resisted efforts of exact verification.

Records from the Bamboo Annals (Zhushu Jinian), a set of records carved in bamboo strips excavated in 281 AD, yielded the earliest verifiable, detailed date in Chinese history as 841 BC, although orthodox chronology generally dates the founding of the Shang dynasty to 1766 BC.

It should be pointed out that difficulties in accurately determining the exact dates on which historical events took place do not necessarily cast doubt on their having occurred. For example, the inaccurate dating of the birth of Christ do not imply that Christ did not exist, at least as a man.

What power is greater than the power to order the division of time, that fluid dimension of all existence, that continuous stream of human consciousness, that mysterious aspect of physics, the understanding of which promises solutions to the riddle of being? Before the beginning of time, the 4th dimension, there was nothingness, no mass distinguishable from void, no movement, no space and no identifiable entity.

The 4th dimension of time is as necessary for describing the location of heavenly bodies as are the 3 dimensions of space. Moreover, the dimension of time is necessary for the appreciation of movement, the fundamental criteria of life. Without the passage of time, there would be no process, no history and no life. Space and time are not separate. They are an inextricable union: the space-time continuum, a concept basic to the General Theory of Relativity.

Relativity Theory eliminates from physics the idea of absolute values for space and time. It states that motion is relative. A body moves only when measured in space to another of different velocity or direction. The measure of mass, length and time depends on the relative motion of the measuring instrument, as compared to the object being measured. Albert Einstein (1897-1955) theorized that as matter approaches the acceleration of light, mass increases until it becomes infinite, length diminishes in the direction of travel until it approaches zero and time would slow until it stops. At that speed, matter would become pure energy.

If and when physicists manage to reconcile the theories of relativity which govern the behavior of heavenly bodies, with those of quantum mechanics which govern the behavior of sub-atomic particles, they will have yielded a unified theory of the universe, and pushed further human understanding of the mystery of its beginning.

He who controls time, controls all else. Caesar understood it, Pope Gregory understood it, and Wu Zetian understood it, as the French Hebertists would a full century after her.

Asians will do well to understand that the year 2000 is a good time to reject Western cultural imperialism and to look for a true revival of their own rich heritage. The first step is to recognize that the concept of the new millennium has no meaning in Asian culture.

Written on December 23, 1999


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