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I believe that these days, years would be written almost all of the time using Western/Arabic numerals in the Gregorian calendar.

But they must sometimes be written using the Hanzi numerals, e.g. in historical or traditional contexts, at least before Western influence arrived.

When it is done, is it done just using the basic digits 一二三四五六七八九十 or does it also use the characters for thousands and hundreds, etc: 千, 百, etc? And is a zero character used, and if so, is it 〇 or 零?

And is there any traditional alternative non-Gregorian calendar which is or was used, in the mainland or in Taiwan?

Are the "financial" / "uppercase" digits 壹贰叁肆伍陆柒捌玖 ever used for writing years?

(I'm making an app for language enthusiasts and language learners and want to include as many variants that make sense but not any absurd combinations that have never been used.)

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  • just want to add on about casual old dating using the solar/lunar traditional calendar with hevaenly stems, used besides reign titles. In this case it doesn't even tell you the exact year, but the year of the zodiac cycle-- a dating of year 癸卯 would be 2023, or 1963, or 1903 etc. aka year 40 of the traiditonal 60 year cycle, and the year would match accordingly (^ν^)
    – zagrycha
    Commented Nov 5, 2023 at 19:01

2 Answers 2

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Today is 二零二三年十一月四日 (04- Nov-2023)

in 公曆 (Gregorian calendar) 2023 is a date, not a counting number, therefore, it is not written as 二千零二十三 as in $2023 (二千零二十三元)

壹贰叁肆伍陆柒捌玖 mostly appear in cheques or money orders

Before the Gregorian calendar was used in China, we used 年號 (reign title) for example, 乾隆二十三年 (The twenty-third year of Qianlong's reign) was the year 1758

Even though the Imperial system had ended, the early Republic of China still used a 年號. this year(2023) is 民國112年 or 民國一百一十二年 in Taiwan

Edit: Calling 民國 a reign title is not accurate, it should be called "Republic of China calendar" (中華民國曆) and 2023 is 民國112年 or 民國一一二年

Japan still has an imperial reign title calendar. The current Japanese reign title is 令和 and 2023 is 令和五年 (The fifth year of Reiwa's reign)

Both Taiwan and Japan use the Gregorian calendar also

Edit 2:

Forgot to mention 干支 and 農曆/陰曆/舊曆 (lunar calendar)

  • 今年(2023)是癸卯

  • 今天是「農曆九月廿二日」 - Today is the ninth month, 22nd day of the lunar calendar

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  • In the Shāng-Zhōu era, years used standard Chinese numerals (or an old spelling of one, such as 「亖」 instead of 「四」), and were typically found in the following format:

    隹(唯・惟)王X祀

    'Tis the Xth year of the King('s reign)

    「王」 may sometimes be omitted.

    Note that year uses the character 「祀」, and not 「年」, and the first year is special, typically denoted using 「元」 (and not 「一」). Examples:

    Book of Documents: Instructions of Yi (《尚書・伊訓》)

    惟元祀十有二月乙丑,伊尹祠于先王。

    'Tis the twelfth month of the first year of the King's reign. On the day of yǐchǒu, Yī Yǐn performed sacrifices to the former king.

    四祀⿰弋卩其卣《殷周金文集成》5413.3

    四祀⿰弋卩其卣

    ...才(在)亖月隹(唯)王亖祀羽(翼)日

    'Tis the fourth month of the fourth year of the King's reign, during the memorial day of 「翼」

    In addition, in this format, multiples of ten have their own special numbers:

    If X exceeds a multiple of ten, it would be written as an addition of two numbers in the format [multiple of ten]「又」[remainder]. For example:

    Dà Yú dǐng 大盂鼎《殷周金文集成》2837

    大盂鼎

    ...隹王廿又三祀

    'Tis the twenty-third year of the King's reign

    For obvious reasons, this way of counting years never exceeded 100 (and unlikely even 50).

  • In later dynasties, the era name system was used. These used a combination of an era name (a kind of slogan or motto associated with a particular time span of the dynasty), plus a standard Chinese counting system (no longer using 「又」 for larger numbers). For example, the era name during the active years of Emperor Yáng of Suí was 「大業」, so the twelfth year of his reign is just written as 「大業十二年」.

    Usage of 「廿」 and larger numbers is optional; 「二十」 appears as well. In addition, the ascension year and abdication/final year are typically written as 「元年」 and 「末年」, respectively.

    In both of the above systems, the "first year" of a monarch or event 「Y」 should be taken to mean the year of the Chinese lunisolar calendar in which 「Y」 occurred; there is no "zeroth year" in these systems, and the year count increases by 1 with every passing of another Chinese calendar year.

  • In the Republic of China, a special variant of the Gregorian calendar is used, where the first year is dated to the same year as the establishment of the Republic (1912). This uses standard numerals and years, often with Arabic numerals instead of Chinese ones. The format used is 「民國X年」; for example, the current year is 「民國一百一十二年」. As with the systems above, the first year is written as 「元年」.

  • The traditional Chinese lunisolar calendar, used for festivals and (occasionally) important historical events, employs a completely different numbering scheme based on the sexagenary cycle. A year-and-month format would be in the format 「(heavenly stem)(earthly branch)X月」. For example, the fourth month of the year of jiǎzǐ would simply be written as 「甲子四月」.

    Some notable events have used this system, up to the past 100 years:

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    “In later dynasties, the era name system was used” we may pinpoint it to 140 bc (漢武帝建元元年) to 1911 ad (宣統三年). further, from 140 bc to 1367 ad, an emperor could change the era name freely, each lasted from 1 year to a few decades; afterward the first emperor (明太祖) of 明 dynasty set the rule that an emperor use one era name only, which was followed till 1911. Commented Nov 4, 2023 at 10:31
  • “during the memorial day of 「翼」” 🙀 maybe, we could read it as “翌”, that “翌日” means “the next day” 😸 Commented Nov 4, 2023 at 10:38
  • @水巷孑蠻 that reading (翼祭) was from a textbook (商周古文字讀本). I don’t think “the next day” makes sense, unless there are other days on other pieces associated with this inscription.
    – dROOOze
    Commented Nov 4, 2023 at 10:44
  • Actually my bad, “next day” could make sense. Not sure if it would be structured this way though, I would expect “next day” to be followed by an event, not at the end of the inscription. Anyway, the authors of 商周古文字讀本 still give the reading 翼祭.
    – dROOOze
    Commented Nov 4, 2023 at 11:07
  • “ 翼祭 ” an interesting notion 😸 most “ 羽(翼)日” (i mean the two characters in oracle bone script, or bronze script) would be read as “翌日” Commented Nov 4, 2023 at 11:18

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