How Was Time Measured In Ancient China?

Before the evolution of the current standard way of measuring time, each traditional society had developed its method of measuring time. Although the various methods did not measure time accurately, they provided a useful estimation. This article will look at how time was measured in ancient China.

How did ancient China measure time


In ancient China, the heavenly bodies provided crucial information on time. The first recorded history of time measurement indicates that time was measured using a vertical pole of about 8 Chinese feet. The length of the shadow was used to determine the time. In 132 AD, the Eastern Han dynasty developed an astronomical clock called the water-transport celestial globe. The clock could tell time during the day and night. It was calibrated using the sun and the waning and waxing of the moon. In 1088 AD, China developed a complex time-measuring instrument called the Su Song Clock Tower. It measured time more effectively, and its calibrations depended on the sun.

Ancient Chinese time measurement

Ancient Chinese time measurement was no different from the current measurement. Time was measured by dividing the day and the night into intervals or units.


How many hours in a day were there in ancient China

Ancient China had two time-measuring systems that differed slightly in the number of hours per day. In the Han-er system, there were fifteen hours in a day. The hours were equal in length except for the last hour, which was equal to 10 hours of the modern day because it began from 8:00 PM to 6:00 AM.

The other significant system was the Eastern Hand to Ming System, which had a 12 hours day. Each hour was equivalent to modern-day two hours.


Ancient Chinese hours of the day

The hours of the day in the Han-er system were as follows, dawn between 6:00 AM to 7:00 AM, Morning light between 7:00 AM-8:00 AM, Daybreak 8:00 AM-9:00 AM, Early Meal 9:00 AM-10:00 AM, Feast Meal Before Noon 11:00 AM-12 Noon, Noon Noon-1:00 PM, Short Shadow 1:00 PM-2:00 PM, Evening 2:00 PM-3:00 PM, Long Shadow 3:00 PM- 4:00 PM, High Setting 4:00 PM-5:00 PM, Lower Setting 5:00 PM-6:00 PM, Sunset 6:00 PM-7:00 PM, Twilight 7:00 PM-8:00 PM, and Rest Time 8:00 PM-6:00 AM.

How did ancient China keep track of years?

Ancient Chinese kept track of years using a calendar based on astronomical phenomena. The Chinese counted the years of the emperor who was in charge. For instance, when there was a change of dynasty, they began their count again, until another change and they would begin to count again. Therefore, in ancient China, year one was the year a new dynasty began to rule.

Do China use a 12-month calendar?

Both the ancient and the current Chinese calendars are 12 months. The 12-month calendar was influenced by astronomical observations, not the Roman calendar. Most traditional societies had a 12-month calendar because it was mostly based on the waxing and waning of the moon.


Time measurement is one of the most ancient practices in China. The desire of the ancient societies to know the time led them to develop difficult time-measuring tools. Keeping track of time was as significant then as it is now. The effort of ancient society has led to the development of modern-day time measurement units and tools.   

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