Chinese era name

A Chinese era name is the regnal year, reign period, or regnal title used when traditionally numbering years in an emperor's reign and naming certain Chinese rulers. Some emperors have several era names, one after another, where each beginning of a new era resets the numbering of the year back to year one or yuán (元). The numbering of the year increases on the first day of the Chinese calendar each year. The era name originated as a motto or slogan chosen by an emperor.

Chinese era name
Hanyu Pinyinniánhào
Literal meaningyear number(ing)
Standard Mandarin
Hanyu Pinyinniánhào


Emperor Wu of Han was conventionally regarded as the first emperor to declare an era name; however he was only the first to use an era name in every year of his reign. His grandfather and father also employed era names, though not continuously. Emperor Wu changed period titles every five years or so, going through a total of eleven reigning slogans during his reign from 140 BC to 87 BC.

Each era name has a literary meaning. For instance, the first era name of Emperor Wu was Jianyuan (, jiànyuán), literally meaning "establishing the Origin". Era names also reflected characteristics of political and other landscapes at the time. Jianzhongjingguo (建中靖國 jiàn zhōng jìng guó), the first era name of Emperor Huizong of Song China, means "establishing middle, peaceful country", reflecting his idealism towards moderating the rivalry among the conservative and progressive parties on political and social reformation. The very first era name of the Qing was significant because it means "[the Manchus possess] the Mandate of Heaven". Popular phrases might be repeated, as with the numerous Taiping eras (lit. "Era of Great Peace").

The process of era name declaration was referred to in traditional Chinese history texts as jianyuan. Declaring a new era name to replace an old one during an emperor's reign was referred to as gaiyuan (改元 gǎi yuán), literally meaning "change the Origin".

To name a year using an era name only requires counting years from the first year of the era. For example, 138 BC was the third year of Jianyuan (建元), since 140 BC was the first year. When more than one monarch used the same motto, the name of the specific monarch or dynasty has to be mentioned. For instance both Emperor Wu and Jin Kangdi picked Jianyuan as their motto. Thus AD 344 was the second year of Jianyuan of the Jin Dynasty (or of Jin Kangdi) whereas 139 BC was the second year of Jianyuan of the Han Dynasty (or of Emperor Wu). In traditional literature, one can therefore find references like "the first month of the thirteenth year of Jianyuan" (建元十三年元月).

Almost all era names have exactly two characters. Notable exceptions are from the non-Han Chinese Western Xia Dynasty (1032–1227). Of the 33 Western Xia era names, seven have more than three characters. For example:

  • Tiancilishengguoqing (天賜禮盛國慶 tiān cì lǐ shèng guó qìng) (1070) "Heaven-given ritualistic richness, nationally celebrated"
  • Tianshoulifayanzuo (天授禮法延祚 tiān shòu lǐ fǎ yán zuò) (1038) "Heaven-instructed rituals and laws, perpetually blessed"

Before the Ming dynasty, an emperor often changed his era name as often as he liked. The numbering of the year still increases on the first day of the Chinese calendar each year, regardless of the month in which the era name change took place. For example, Emperor Xuanzong of Tang changed his era name, Xiantian (先天, pinyin: xiān tiān) to Kaiyuan (開元, pinyin: kāi yuán) in the twelfth (i.e. last) month of the Chinese calendar. The second year of Kaiyuan (開元二年) began on the first day of the next month (i.e. Chinese New Year's Day); this made the first year of Kaiyuan (開元元年) consist of only the last few days in the twelfth month following the name change.


Ming and Qing emperors generally used only one era name during their reign, and it is customary to refer to Ming and Qing emperors by their era names. When an emperor died, his successor would adopt a new era name, but the numbering of the new era name would only begin on the next New Year's Day. For example, when the Kangxi Emperor of Qing acceded the throne in 1661, it was a few days after New Year's Day, so the Shunzhi era continued for the rest of the year, and the first year of Kangxi (康熙元年) would only start on New Year's Day the following year, in 1662. Exceptions to this are the Taichang Emperor of the Ming (being dead after reigning for only one month, his successor decreed that the Taichang era name be used for the rest of the year), the Zhengtong Emperor of the Ming and Hung Taiji of the Qing (both used two era names).

An era name was a symbol of imperial power. Declaration of another era name when one was already in use was regarded as a challenge to the current emperor. The existence of more than one era name at a time often reflected political unrest. In addition, using a particular era name was a political act implying recognition of a sovereign's right to rule, and one issue that traditional Chinese historians faced was which set of era names to use when dating a historical event. For example, when the Yongle Emperor of the Ming usurped his nephew, the Jianwen Emperor's throne in 1402, he ordered all records of the four-year-reign of the Jianwen Emperor to be dated as year 32 through year 35 of the Hongwu Emperor (the emperor preceding Jianwen Emperor)'s reign, in order to establish himself as the legitimate successor of the Hongwu Emperor.

Era names were also employed (under different naming conventions) in other East Asian countries such as Korea, Japan and Vietnam, mostly because of China's cultural influence. Imperial era names are still used in Japan. The Republic of China Era, used in China from 1912-1949, and still used in Republic of China (ROC), marks years as Minguo (i.e. the Republic), which is usually regarded as an era name. For example, the 1st year of the "Republic Era" was 1912. Therefore, 2019 is "the 108th year of the Republic Era" (民國108年). On the mainland, era names were abolished with the adoption of the Common Era at the founding of the People's Republic in 1949.

Era system versus Western dating system

While the era system is a more traditional system of dating that preserves Chinese and Japanese culture, it presents a problem for the more globalized Asian society and for everyday life.

For example, even though within the nation people will know what era they are in, it is relatively meaningless for other nations. In addition, while Republic of China (ROC) and Japan only recognize documents dated in the Era System, their treaties with other countries are in the Dionysian Era (AD) system. In modern times, only Republic of China and Japan still continue to use the ancient Chinese era naming system.

Even in the domestic arena, the era system can present difficult dilemmas. For example, in Japan, it is difficult to keep track of the age of people who were born in the previous era. Also, while ROC and Japan both continue to use the ancient Chinese era system, since they have partially adopted the Gregorian calendar for non-governmental use, it is more difficult to track down dates that fall on February 29 leap year in the Western calendar.

Furthermore, in Japan, in theory it is difficult to mention future dates since it is sometimes hard to tell whether the current emperor will live long enough for its citizens to use that era name. However, in practice, documents like driver's licenses and 50-year leases use era dates without regard to this problem.

On the other hand, others suggest that the AD system has too much Christian connotation behind it and it is a form of cultural imperialism when an essentially European system of dating is forced upon other civilizations with their own long-used and equally legitimate dating systems. However, with globalization, the AD system is becoming more acceptable in Japan and the ROC.

Modern history researchers do not care about era names except for supporting other arguments, such as figuring out the biases and attitudes of a particular historian; however, era names are useful for dating events that were unique in Chinese history. Most Chinese dictionaries have a comprehensive list of era names, while booklets of more detailed and often searchable lists can be found in libraries.

See also

External links

Calendar era

A calendar era is the year numbering system used by a calendar. For example, the Gregorian calendar numbers its years in the Western Christian era (the Coptic Orthodox and Ethiopian Orthodox churches have their own Christian eras). The instant, date, or year from which time is marked is called the epoch of the era. There are many different calendar eras such as Saka Era.

In antiquity, regnal years were counted from the accession of a monarch. This makes the Chronology of the ancient Near East very difficult to reconstruct, based on disparate and scattered king lists, such as the Sumerian King List and the Babylonian Canon of Kings. In East Asia, reckoning by era names chosen by ruling monarchs ceased in the 20th century except for Japan, where they are still used.


Chengping (承平) was a Chinese era name used by several emperors of China. It may refer to:

Chengping (443–460), era name used by Juqu Wuhui and Juqu Anzhou of the Northern Liang

Chengping (452), era name used by Tuoba Yu, emperor of Northern Wei


Guangtian (光天) was a Chinese era name used by several emperors of China. It may refer to:

Guangtian (918), era name used by Wang Jian (Former Shu), emperor of Former Shu

Guangtian (942–943), era name used by Liu Bin (Southern Han), emperor of Southern Han


Heiji (平治) was a Japanese/Chinese era name (年号,, nengō,, lit. "year name") after Hōgen and before Eiryaku. This period spanned the years from April 1159 through January 1160. The reigning emperor was Emperor Nijō-tennō (二条天皇).


Jianchu (建初) was a Chinese era name used by several emperors of China. It may refer to:

Jianchu (76–84), era name used by Emperor Zhang of Han

Jianchu (386–394), era name used by Yao Chang, emperor of Later Qin

Jianchu (405–417), era name used by Li Gao, ruler of Western Liang


Jintong may refer to:

Jintong, literally "Gold Boy", a character in Chinese mythology who, along with his female counterpart Yunü or "Jade Girl", are the close servants of the Jade Emperor

Jintong, a Chinese era name used by the Tang rebel Huang Chao from 881 to 884 when he declared himself the Qi emperor

Later Jin (Five Dynasties)

The Later Jìn (simplified Chinese: 后晋; traditional Chinese: 後晉; pinyin: Hòu Jìn, 936–947), also called Shi Jin (石晉), was one of the Five Dynasties during the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms period in China. It was founded by Shi Jingtang, who was posthumously titled "Gaozu". Liao, its original protector state, destroyed Later Jin by invading in 946 and 947, after Jin's second ruler, Shi Chonggui, fell out with them.


Qianheng (乾亨) was a Chinese era name used by several emperors of China. It may refer to:

Qianheng (917–925), era name used by Liu Yan (emperor), emperor of Southern Han

Qianheng (979–983), era name used by Emperor Jingzong of Liao

Regnal name

A regnal name, or reign name, is the name used by monarchs and popes during their reigns and, subsequently, historically. Since ancient times, some monarchs have chosen to use a different name from their original name when they accede to the monarchy.

The regnal name is usually followed by a regnal number, written as a Roman numeral, to differentiate that monarch from others who have used the same name while ruling the same realm. In some cases, the monarch has more than one regnal name, but the regnal number is based on only one of those names, for example Charles X Gustav of Sweden, George Tupou V of Tonga. If a monarch reigns in more than one realm, he or she may carry different ordinals in each one, as some realms may have had different numbers of rulers of the same regnal name. For example, the same person was both King James I of England and King James VI of Scotland.

The ordinal is not normally used for the first ruler of the name, but is used in historical references once the name is used again. Thus, Queen Elizabeth I of England was called simply "Elizabeth of England" until the accession of Queen Elizabeth II almost four centuries later in 1952; subsequent historical references to the earlier queen retroactively refer to her as Elizabeth I. However, Tsar Paul I of Russia, King Umberto I of Italy, King Juan Carlos I of Spain, and Pope John Paul I all used the ordinal I (first) during their reigns, while Pope Francis does not. In spoken English, such names are pronounced as "Elizabeth the First", "George the Sixth" etc.

In some countries in Asia, monarchs took or take era names. While era names as such are not used in many monarchies, sometimes eras are named after a monarch (usually long-lived), or a succession of monarchs of the same name. This is customary; there is no formal or general rule. For example, the whole period during which a succession of four Georges (George I, II, III, and IV) of the Hanoverian dynasty reigned in Great Britain became known as the Georgian era. Conversely, although there were many Edwards, the Edwardian era always refers to the reign of Edward VII at the beginning of the 20th century.


Shouchang may refer to:

Shouchang, Zhejiang, a town in Zhejiang province, China

Shouchang era, a Chinese era name of Emperor Daozong of Liao, which was from 1095 AD. to the first month of Chinese calendar of 1101 AD.


Sisheng may refer to:

Four tones of modern Mandarin Chinese

Four tones of Middle Chinese, a separate set of four historical tones following the loss of Chinese's terminal consonants

Sisheng, Chinese era name used by Emperor Zhongzong of Tang during his first reign (683–684)


Tianhan was a Chinese era name used by several emperors of China. It may refer to:

Tianhan (100BC–97BC), an era name used by Emperor Wu of Han

Tianhan (917AD), an era name used by Wang Jian (Former Shu), emperor of Former Shu (known as Han during that particular year)


Tianqing (天慶) was a Chinese era name used by several emperors of China. It may refer to:

Tianqing (1029–1030), or Cheongyeong, era name used by Dae Yeon-rim

Tianqing (1111–1120), era name used by Emperor Tianzuo of Liao

Tianqing (1194–1206), era name used by Emperor Huanzong of Western Xia


Wangba may refer to:

Wangba, a town in Li County, Gansu, China

Wangba, a Chinese era name used by the Tang rebel Huang Chao from 878 to 880

Wangba, a Mandarin Chinese profanity meaning "cuckold" or "turtle"


Wude may refer to:

Wude, Chinese era name used by Emperor Gaozu of Tang during his reign (618–626)

Wude or "martial morality", an ethical system taught in Chinese martial arts

WUDE, a radio station (106.3 FM) licensed to serve Bolivia, North Carolina, United States


Xiankang (咸康) was a Chinese era name used by several emperors of China. It may refer to:

Xiankang (335–342), era name used by Emperor Cheng of Jin

Xiankang (925–926), era name used by Wang Zongyan, emperor of Former Shu


Yongshi (永始) was a Chinese era name used by several emperors of China. It may refer to:

Yongshi (16BC–13BC), era name used by Emperor Cheng of Han

Yongshi (403–404), era name used by Huan Xuan


Yuanfeng was a Chinese era name used by several emperors of China. It may refer to:

Yuanfeng (元封, 110BC–105BC), an era name used by Emperor Wu of Han

Yuanfeng (元鳳, 80BC–75BC), an era name used by Emperor Zhao of Han

Yuanfeng (元豐, 1078–1085), an era name used by Emperor Shenzong of Song


Zhenming was a Chinese era name used by several emperors of China. It may refer to:

Zhenming (禎明, 587–589), era name used by Chen Shubao, emperor of the Chen dynasty

Zhenming (貞明, 915–921), era name used by Zhu Youzhen, emperor of Later Liang (also used by concurrent rulers of Wuyue and Min Kingdom)

This page is based on a Wikipedia article written by authors (here).
Text is available under the CC BY-SA 3.0 license; additional terms may apply.
Images, videos and audio are available under their respective licenses.