About the Y1C problem, which really isn't too much of a problem (except maybe in North Korea)...

by Michael S. Kaplan, published on 2011/01/22 07:01 -05:00, original URI: http://blogs.msdn.com/b/michkap/archive/2011/01/22/10116914.aspx


The question I was asked:

Did anything ever happen with the Y1C problem? I haven't seen it in the news.

Complicated question, that! On several levels.

It all started a long time ago.

And when I say a long time, I mean like millenia ago.

There was this tendency to base the Chinese calendar on the current emperor's era name and the year of the emperor's reign.

This system was a popular export of China's, making it's way to Japan and even Korea, over the years.

It totally is how I would do things if I was an Emperor. Your Mileage May Vary here, of course, but that's how I would roll....

Anyway, all of that changed with Sun Yat-sen, though.

Sun Yat-WHO?

This guy:

This politically impressive man did many very cool things (you can read about some of them on Wikipedia, here). One of the smaller yet still significant things was to propose a way to keep the "same old" system of basing the calendar on the emperor even when there was no emperor anymore. The plan was to consider January 1, 1912 of the Gregorian calendar to be the first "year of the republic". Now since of course the intent was to not have an emperor and of course for the Republic to keep on trucking, it would serve to end the steady stream of calendar year resets that the old system was so known for, while keeping the very same system.

"Embrace and Extend", as it were!

The name of the Republic? 中華民國. And the two-letter abbreviation for the sake of the calendar? 民國, all set. Very recognizable kind of scheme.

Of course it was not until a few decades after the fall of the last emperor that the calendar took hold, and after a few more decades, the Communist revolution in mainland China happened. While there was initially some talk of a similar "solution" by naming a new calendar era (perhaps 人國 or somesuch, like "for the people" to contrast with "for the republic"), the eventual decision was made to just move completely to the Gregorian calendar in the People's Republic of China. You should remember that back in the beginning then they considered simplified Chinese to be an interim step to something even more romanized. One imagines moving purely Gregorgian may have come out of that age, but the forces involved are complex enough that I doubt they could ever be fully discerned.

Meanwhile back in Taiwan, which still calls iteself and often thinks of itself as the "Republic of China", still uses this ROC calendar -- a calendar that was formally established in the late 1920s with a start date in 1912. Which means that they are going to have to start dealing with a problem that has been essentially unheard of in China or Japan  or Korea -- a calendar era of more than 100 years.

Remember my Y oh Y does YYYY sometimes mean YY, you ask?

Yeah, that blog.

And this is the basis of the Y1C problem -- the year 100 of rollover the ROC calendar.

Now for the most part there was no problem here, since most systems were allowing three digits for the years, in part because the intent of this calendar was to not expect a reset based on a new ruler in some time less than 100 years. The effect was pretty minor. In theory problems could be popping up more this next year, but it is widely not expected to be debilitating. To be honest the 11-year difference with Gregorian dates is more often causing problems (mainly with expiration dates of food) than anything else.

As a side note, North Korea has a similar problem with the fact their their calendar dates from the original birth date of Kim Il-sung, the ruler of North Korea in 1948. I have yet to hear of specific problems in North Korea though it isn't like I am swimming in contacts there. Maybe someone reading here knows -- they don't tend to report out about their IT issues (and it's not like we have an open calendar model for Windows that would directly support North Korea anyway).

Anyway, the ROC calendar support is generally available in Windows only in Taiwan, a technologically epic compromise that keeps Microsoft from taking sides, and in Taiwan there are regularly people recommending they just move to the plain old Gregorian calendar, something that has been resisted to date given the important amount of symbolism that the ROC calendar represents to many people in Taiwan. And in the PRC it is also symbolic -- of a government that they consider themselves to have replaced.

One thing I found interesting in talking to several friends of mine who live in the PRC was how so many of them knew of Sun Yat-sen. When one considers comparable figures after the overthrow of the Tsar in Russia (e.g. Trotsky, Kerensky, etc.), their roles in Russian history were much more marginalized in Soviet rule years than in this somewhat comparable situation in China. Perhaps I am overstating that contrast, but it struck me as interesting....

Of course looking at the ROC calendar as a true extension of the Chinese calendar is probably a bit specious anyway, since it isn't like they want pre-1911 dates thought of as anything out of the end of the Qing Dynasty. All of which makes me happier that the folks in PRC didn't want to symbolically extend the Chinese calendar themselves since carrying around two versions of it, each of which the other would denounce, would make the Windows calendar story even weirder than it is already. And would stick Windows, and Microsoft, in the middle of a debate that we probably wouldn't want to be in.

All of this makes the job in Windows and .Net much easier since we don't have to track those other eras and dynasties and Emperors and such, something that

Common ground FTW? :-)

Anyway, all of this has gone way beyond the original question about the Y1C problem, which really isn't too much of a problem (except maybe in North Korea?).

I should probably say something about the Japanese calendar, too. But I'll save that for another day....


Doug Ewell on 22 Jan 2011 9:32 AM:

> North Korea has a similar problem with the fact their their calendar dates from the original birth date of Kim Il-sung, the ruler of North Korea in 1948.

I assume you mean his birth date in 1912, not his ascension to Premier in 1948.

Michael S. Kaplan on 22 Jan 2011 9:41 AM:

Indeed, that is when they date the calendar from.

John Cowan on 22 Jan 2011 10:05 AM:

Sun Yat-sen is definitely common ground; he was the man that got rid of the Manchu regime, the Father Of His Country.  Although the Manchu as an ethnicity had been completely Han-ized by 1800 or so, the Manchu-descended families still kept power in their own hands while imposing symbolic and actual restrictions on the Han.  One of these was the pigtail; after the fall of the Dowager Empress, Chinese men right around the planet cut off their pigtails for the first time.

Michael S. Kaplan on 23 Jan 2011 1:53 AM:

He is...though his calendar idea is not.

Cheong on 23 Jan 2011 6:00 PM:

Actually, the more commonly used notation in years of Chinese calendar is dodecimal notation using 2 sets of Chinese characters to loops in 60 years cycle (e.g.: in 2011 it is 辛卯). The "Official" notation using "prefix related to emperor" is only used by officials and historians.

Michael S. Kaplan on 23 Jan 2011 11:51 PM:

Probably the occasional reported Y1C problems are a few of those "officials" scenarios....

Cheong on 24 Jan 2011 5:31 PM:

Oh, of course Taiwanese uses 民國 calendar scheme.

What I said is referred to the days before 民國 in China.


referenced by

2011/02/26 Why I don't like the JapaneseCalendar class #1: Respecting (or at least admitting) the history....

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