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Origin of Yuan Dan

http://www.chinese.cn 15:20, December 27, 2010 Confucius Institute Online

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In ancient China, Yuan Dan was not on January 1st, as regulated in the Gregorian calendar. The date of Yuan Dan had been changed many times from the 1st of the 12th lunar month in Yin Dynasty to the 1st of the 1st lunar month in Han Dynasty. When Sun Yat-sen took office as the temporary President in Nanjing at the beginning of January of 1912, he set the 1st of the 1st lunar month as the Spring Festival while the 1st of January was set as the New Year, which was also called Yuan Dan. After liberation, the Central Government of China issued a National Festival and Memorial Day Holiday that set January 1st as Yuan Dan, which was a one-day holiday for the whole country. In order to distinguish the two New Years of both the lunar calendar and solar calendar, and as the "spring beginning" of the Lunar Calendar was always around the lunar New Year, the 1st of the 1st lunar month was called the Spring Festival. Yuan means the beginning, the first. The beginning of a number is Yuan. Dan, which is a pictographic character in the Chinese language, means the day rises from the horizon, symbolizing the beginning of a day. When Yuan and Dan are combined, it means the first day of a New Year. Yuan Dan is also called Three Yuan, the beginning of a year, the beginning of a month and the beginning of an hour. The word Yuan Dan was first used during the Three Emperors and Five Sovereigns era.

In Jin Shu, compiled by Fang Xuanling in the Tang Dynasty, the first lunar month was called Yuan and the 1st day was called Dan. In a legend about the prosperous era of Yao and Shun some 4000 years ago, when Yao was the king, he created many benefits for the people and was loved by them. However, since his son was not as capable as him, Yao did not pass on his throne to his son but to Shun, a wise and saintly man. Yao said to Shun: "You must pass the throne to a right person. Then I will feel at peace when I die." Shun passed his throne to Yu, who was a hero because he could control flooding. Just like Shun, Yu also did a lot of good deeds for the people and was revered by them. After Yao died, Shun set the day he made sacrifices to the heavens and gods, as well as to the late Yao, as the first day of the year, and the first day of the 1st lunar month became known as Yuan Dan or Yuan Zheng. This was Yuan Dan in ancient times. Previous dynasties would organize celebrations and sacrifices on Yuan Dan, for example sacrificing to the immortals and their forefathers, writing Spring Festival scrolls, writing character fortunes anddragon dancing.

People also celebrated the day by making sacrifices to immortals and ancestors, pasting spring festival scrolls onto their houses, setting off firecrackers, staying up all night, eating dinners at reunions as well as putting on a "society fire". These scenes are of such impact that the poet Xin Lan in the Jin Dynasty immortalised the scenes of Yuan Dan in his poem Yuan Zheng.

Though January 1st was set as the New Year in the Republic of China, only governmental departments, schools and foreign companies took the day off. People didn't recognize it as New Year but still applied the 1st of the first lunar month as the New Year. Therefore, there were no celebrations in old Beijing on that day. After liberation, January 1st was set as Yuan Dan and the government set a three-day holiday during the Spring Festival in the traditional lunar calendar. Celebrations like temple fairs were organized and the thousand-year-old custom was accepted by the people.


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