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Chinese era name

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A Chinese era name, commonly referred to in Chinese as Nian Hao 年號 (pinyin nian2 hao4), is the "era name" commonly used when numbering years in an emperor's reign and naming certain Chinese rulers. It originated as a motto or slogan chosen by an emperor.

Han Wudi[?] was conventionally regarded as the first emperor to declare a nian hao; however he was only the first to use a nian hao in every year of his reign. His grandfather[?] and father[?] also employed nian haos, though not continuously. Han Wudi changed mottos every five years or so, going through a total of eleven slogans during his reign from 140 BC to 87 BC.

Each nian hao has its literary meaning. For instance first nian hao of Han Wudi was Jianyuan (建元 in pinyin: jian4 yuan2), literally meaning "establishing nian hao". It also reflected charateristics of political and other landscapes at the time. Jianzhongjingguo (建中靖國 jian4 zhong1 jing4 guo2) means "establishing a happy medium and cleansing the country of iniquity", reflecting Song Huizong[?]'s attempt to moderate the rivalry among the conservative and progressive parties[?] on political and social reformation. The process of nian hao declaration was referred to in traditonal Chinese history texts as Jianyuan (建元 jian4 yuan2). Declaring a new nian hao to replace an old one during an emperor's reign was referred to as gai yuan (改元 gai3 yuan2), literally meaning "changing the nian hao".

To name a year using an era name is only counting how many years the year in qusetion is after 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 use the same motto, name of specific monarch or dynasty has to be mentioned. For instance both Han Wudi and Jin Kangdi[?] picked Jianyuan as their motto. Thus 344 AD was the second year of Jianyuan of Jin Dynasty (or of Jin Kangdi) whereas 139 BC was the second year of Jianyuan of Han Dynasty (or of Han Wudi).

Before the Republic of China was established, only the emperor can declare a nian hao which was supposed to be unique in the country; hence it is a symbol of imperial power. Whoever dared to declare a new nian hao when one is in use was regarded as challenging to the current emperor. Happened coutless times throughout the history of China, existence of numerous nian haos at a time often reflected political unrest. In addition, using a particular nian hao 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 nian hao to use when dating a historical event.

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,

  • Tiansilishengguoqing (天賜禮盛國慶 tian1 si4 li3 sheng4 guo2 qing4) (1070) "Heaven-given ritualistic richness, nationally celebrated"
  • Tianshoulifayanzuo (天授禮法延祚 tian1 shou4 li3 fa3 yan2 zuo4) (1038) "Heaven-instructed rituals and laws, perpetually blessed"

Modern history researchers care less about nian hao except used for supporting other arguments, such as figuring out the biases and attitudes of a particular historian; however such mottos are useful to date events since they were unique in Chinese history. Most Chinese dictionaries have a comprehensive list of nian hao, while booklets of more detailed and often searchable lists can be found in libraries.

Emperors from the Tang Dynasty up to (but not including) the Ming Dynasty are better identified by their unique miao hao (廟號), or "temple names." Ming Dynasty and Qing Dynasty emperors are known by their era names, because during these two dynasties the practice was to choose only one motto for the whole reign.

A fuller description of this naming convention is given in the Chinese sovereign entry.

Nian hao's were also employed (under different naming convention) in other east asian[?] countries such as Korea[?], Japan and Vietnam[?] and other mostly because of their cultural influences by China. They are still used in Japan. In addition Taiwan occasionally uses an era name of Minguo, (i.e. the Republic) which can be regarded as a nianhao.

See also: Chinese calendar

External link

Comparative tables of Chinese, Japanese and Korean era names (http://homepage1.nifty.com/history/history)

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