East Asian age reckoning

Dol, the traditional way of celebrating a birthday of a one-year old child in South Korea.

East Asian age reckoning is a concept and practice that originated in China and is widely used by other cultures in East Asia. Newborns start at the age of one year, and at the beginning of lichun (usually February 4, sometimes February 5) which is the first of the 24 solar terms, one year is added to the person's age. In other words, the first year of life is counted as one instead of zero, so that a person is one year old in their first year, two years old in their second, and so on.[1][2] Since age is incremented on the beginning of solar term rather than on a birthday, people may be one or two years older in Asian reckoning than in the modern age system.

Variations in date for change of age

In China, the age changes on the first day of lichun, which is the first solar term of the 24 solar terms, which usually falls some time on 4 February, though sometimes it falls on the 5th as well.[3] The current age reckoning system in use in South Korea is based on the Gregorian Calendar, though originally Koreans also followed lichun as the beginning of the year and also the date for change of age.

In Eastern Mongolia, age is traditionally determined based on the number of full moons since conception for girls, and the number of new moons since birth for boys.[4]

In Japan, Vietnam, and South Korea, lichun as the date for change of age is used for traditional fortune-telling or religion.

The idea of a universal birthday disappeared from all of the Sinosphere, China and Japan having switched over to the western age reckoning system, with the sole exception of Korea, though the universal birthday shifted from lichun to New Year's Day.


In either the traditional or modern age system, the word sui (traditional Chinese: ; simplified Chinese: ; pinyin: suì), meaning "years of age", is used for age counting. When a person's age is given in a publication, it is often specified whether that is his or her traditional age (traditional Chinese: 虛歲; simplified Chinese: 虚岁; pinyin: xūsuì) based on the East Asian reckoning system, or modern age (traditional Chinese: 周歲; simplified Chinese: 周岁; pinyin: zhōusùi) or shisui (traditional Chinese: 實歲; simplified Chinese: 实岁; pinyin: shísùi) based on the Gregorian calendar.[5]

When a child has survived one month of life (29 days if lunar month reckoning) a mun yuet (Chinese: 滿月; pinyin: mǎnyuè) celebration can be observed in which duck or chicken eggs dyed red are distributed to guests to signify fertility.


Japanese uses the word sai ( or ) as a counter word for both the traditional and modern age system.

The traditional system of age reckoning, or kazoedoshi (数え年), was rendered obsolete by law in 1902 when Japan officially adopted the modern age system,[6][7][8] known in Japanese as man nenrei (満年齢). However, the traditional system was still commonly used, so in 1950 another law was established to encourage people to use the modern age system.[9][10][11]

Today the traditional system is mainly used by the elderly and in rural areas. Elsewhere its use is limited to traditional ceremonies, divinations, and obituaries.


Koreans generally refer to their age in units called sal (), using Korean numerals in ordinal form. Thus, a person is one sal ("han sal", 한살) during the first calendar year of life, and ten sal during the tenth calendar year.[12]

The 100th-day anniversary of a baby is called baegil (), which literally means "a hundred days" in Korean, and is given a special celebration, marking the survival of what was once a period of high infant mortality. The first anniversary of birth named dol () is likewise celebrated, and given even greater significance. Koreans celebrate their birthdays,[13] even though every Korean gains one 'sal' on New Year's Day.[14] Because the first year comes at birth and the second on the first day of the New Year, children born, for example, on December 29 will reach two years of age on the New Year's Day, when they are only days old in western reckoning. Hence, everyone born on the same calendar year effectively has the same age and can easily be calculated by the formula: Age = Current Year - Birth Year + 1

In modern Korea the traditional system is most often used. The international age system is referred to as "man-nai" (만나이) in which "man" () means "full"[15] or "actual", and "nai" (나이) meaning "age".[14][16] For example, man yeol sal means "full ten years", or "ten years old" in English. The Korean word dol means "years elapsed", identical to the English "years old", but is only used to refer to the first few birthdays. Cheotdol or simply dol refers to the first Western-equivalent birthday, dudol refers to the second, and so on.[17][18]

The Korean Birthday Celebrations by the lunar calendar is called eumnyeok saeng-il (음력 생일, 陰曆生日) and yangnyeok saeng-il (양력 생일, 陽曆生日) is the birthday by Gregorian calendar.[19]

For official government uses, documents, and legal procedures, a chronological age system is used akin to the system used in Western countries. Regulations regarding age limits on beginning school, as well as the age of consent, are all based on a chronological system (man-nai).[16][20] The age limit for tobacco, alcohol use are after January 1 of the year one's age turns to 19.[21]


This traditional system is widely used in modern Vietnam. In conversations, speakers would distinguish the traditional age ("tuổi ta" - our age or "tuổi mụ" - age (including) prebirth) and the Western age ("tuổi Tây" - Western age). In official documents, only the Western system is used.

See also


  1. Shi Liwei (30 April 2009). "Why Chinese People Have a Nominal Age". ChinaCulture.org. Retrieved 11 November 2009.
  2. "98, 90 or 93? Expert sheds light on tycoon's age". The Star. October 25, 2007. Retrieved 2009-02-26.
  3. "In Korea, all children are older than their European peers". Pravda. July 16, 2013. Retrieved 2014-04-08.
  4. "中国人为何还有一个虚岁". Retrieved 24 January 2012.
  5. レファレンス事例詳細: 相-090002, Collaborative Reference Database. (Accessed 2009-11-11.) "なお、年齢が数えか満年齢かについては、現行法規である「年齢計算ニ関スル法律」が明治35年12月2日法律第50号として存在するが、その前に「明治六年第三十六号布告」で満年齢について規定された。 (translation: Whether one counts age the modern age system (満年齢) is described by the "Legal age calculation" law initiated Meiji 35 (1902), December 2, Act no. 50 exists prior to the "13 Years of Meiji 6 Proclamation No. 6" prescribed for the modern age system (満年齢).)"
  6. "年齢計算ニ関スル法律 Act on Calculation of Ages" (in Japanese). Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications Japan. 1902.
  7. "Act on Calculation of Ages". Ministry of Justice, Japan. 1902.
  8. Hirofumi Hirano, July Heisei 40, 年齢の計算に関する質問主意書 (Memorandum on questions about the calculation of age), Japan House of Representatives. (Retrieved 2009-11-11) "わが国では、「年齢のとなえ方に関する法律」に基づき、昭和二十五年以降数え年による年齢計算を止め、満年齢によって年齢を計算している。 (translation: In Japan, the age laws which were originally based on the calculation by East Asian age reckoning (数え年) were replaced Twenty-five years after the Showa (1950) with the modern age system (満年齢) method of age calculation.)"
  9. "年齢のとなえ方に関する法律Act on Counting of Ages" (in Japanese). Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications Japan. 1949, effective in 1950. Check date values in: |date= (help)
  10. "Act on Counting of Ages". Ministry of Justice, Japan. 1949.
  11. Song, Jae Jung. (2005), p. 81-82, (quote) "Koreans prefer native Korean to Sino-Korean numerals when telling their own or other people's age,...Note that the native age classifier sal must be used with native Korean numerals and the Sino-Korean age classifier sey with Sino-Korean numerals,.."
  12. DuBois (2004), pp. 72-73
  13. 1 2 Park, Hyunjoo; Pan, Yuling (2007-05-19). "Cognitive Interviewing with Asian Populations: Findings from Chinese and Korean Interviews" (PDF). Anaheim, CA: RTI International. Retrieved 2009-11-11. Koreans are considered one year old at birth and added another year at New Year’s....some Koreans may use American age counting convention while others still follow Korean convention. To eliminate this confusion, Korean asked “만나이(Man-nai)’: the same as the U.S. age counting convention.
  14. 만7(滿) (in Korean). Nate Korean Dictionary. Retrieved 2009-11-11. 시기나 햇수를 꽉 차게 헤아림을 이르는 말.(trans. The word refers to calculating full years or periods.
  15. 1 2 Hilts and Kim, (2002), p.228 (quote) "Koreans have a peculiar way of calculating age. When you're born, you're already one year old, and then you get another year older when New Year's Day rolls around. The result is that your hangungnai (한국나이), 'Korean age', is usually one to two years older than your man-nai (만 나이), 'actual age'. Under-age kids sometimes try to take some advantage of this, but eligibility for drinking, obtaining license etc is determined by your actual age."
  16. [Dol] (in Korean). Nate Korean-English Dictionary. Retrieved 2009-11-11. )
  17. 돌1 [Dol] (in Korean). Nate Korean Dictionary. Retrieved 2009-11-11. Ⅰ. (명사) 어린아이가 태어난 날로부터 한 해가 되는 날. (Ⅱ )1. 생일이 돌아온 횟수를 세는 단위. 주로 두세 살의 어린아이에게 쓴다. 2. 특정한 날이 해마다 돌아올 때, 그 횟수를 세는 단위.
  18. Kim Tae-yeop (김태엽) (2006-08-08). "'8월 18일은 이승엽 DAY!'...요미우리, 축하 이벤트 마련" ['The day on August 18 is Lee Seung-Yeop's Day!'..Yomiuri, preparing a congratulatory event] (in Korean). Sports Chosun. Retrieved 2009-11-11. 최근 이승엽의 아버지 이춘광씨는 보통 양력생일을 치르는 요즘의 추세와 달리 이승엽의 음력 생일(1976년 8월18일)을 치르는 사연을 밝혀 화제가 됐다 (trans. It was a recent topic that Lee Chun-gwang, the father of Lee Seung-Yeop, revealed the reason why Lee Seung-Yeop takes his lunar birthday on August 18, 1976 instead of the solar birthday as opposed to the current trend.)
  19. "성년 成年, full age" (in Korean). Nate / Britannica. Retrieved 2009-11-11. 한국의 경우 만 20세로 성년이 되며(민법 제4조)...연령의 계산은 민법 제155조 이하의 규정에 의하나, 출생일을 산입한다(동법 제158조). 1977년의 민법 개정으로 혼인에 의한 성년의제(成年擬制)의 제도를 도입했다..대통령선거법·국회의원선거법·국민투표법·지방자치법·지방의회의원선거법·미성년자보호법 등에서는 이 원칙이 적용되지 않는다.
  20. "청소년보호법" [Adolescent Protection Law]. 국가법령정보센터 (in Korean). 대한민국 법제처. 7 July 2016. Retrieved 30 July 2016. "청소년"이란 만 19세 미만인 사람을 말한다. 다만, 만 19세가 되는 해의 1월 1일을 맞이한 사람은 제외한다.


  • DuBois, Jill (2004). Korea. 7 of Cultures of the world. Marshall Cavendish. pp. 72–73. ISBN 0-7614-1786-9. 
  • Hilts, J. D.; Kim, Minkyoung (2002). Korean phrasebook. Lonely Planet. p. 228. ISBN 1-74059-166-6. 
  • Song, Jae Jung (2005). The Korean language: structure, use and context. Routledge. pp. 81–82. ISBN 0-415-32802-0. 

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