Saturday, November 19, 2011

ON TIME AND TIMING




Time[1], in the Chinese perception, is associated with the cardinal points and the five elements (wood, fire, metal, water and earth). According to The Order of the Months(yuè)(lìng), a chapter in the Book of Rites ()(), from the Warring States Period (475-221 BCE), spring influences the direction of east and is ruled by the element of wood; summer influences the south and is ruled by the element of fire; autumn influences the west and is ruled by the element of metal; winter influences the north and is ruled by the element of water; the element of earth influences the center, the crossing of the four cardinal points, and is itself ruled by the four seasons.

In Chinese, time is signified by the word (shí), which also means "hour", "period", "age", "season" and "opportunity". Originally, this word was associated with doing things at the right time, which means doing things in harmony with the five elements, hence its association with opportunity.

In ancient Chinese texts there is no one point by which to mark the beginning of time. Thus, in Chinese chronologies, unlike the Western ones, there is no starting moment of counting time, such as the birth of Jesus. Instead, there are frequent beginnings based on the establishment of a new dynasty. In the personal domain, time is defined by birth and death, with a human life considered as a mere fraction of a long dynasty that includes the dead and the living.

The perception of time originates in an awareness of cyclical natural phenomena such as day and night and the changing seasons. The traditional Chinese year is a lunar one, divided into 12 lunar months, further divided into three time units: two comprised of ten days each, and one comprised of nine days. The Chinese holidays are usually associated with the phases of the moon, especially with the full moon, when the night is bright.

In order to measure time, the ancient Chinese used sundials or water clocks. These sundials were divided into 100 equal parts, each representing about 15 minutes. During the Tang dynasty (618-907 CE) local government officials erected a complicated system of drum towers to announce the hour. In the palace of the emperor drumming would mark the beginning of the working day, while in the government offices a gong would sound for this purpose.

Up until modern times the city gates would be closed in the evening and opened in the morning with the call of the rooster. On the longest day in the year the city gates would be closed for the whole day, in order to keep demons away from the city.

In 1088 CE an amazingly complicated and precise astronomical clock tower was built in the city of Kai-Feng  (kāi)(fēng)  . The emperor who initiated the building of the tower was Zhe Zong (zhé)(zōng)(ruled 1086-1100 CE), and the builder of the clock was Su Song  ()(sòng)(1020-1101 CE), an expert in calculation of calendar years. The tower rose to a height of 12 meters and the clock was powered by a water-wheel. A single mechanism controlled all the parts of the clock, with no human effort. The upper part of the clock enabled precise astrological observations; its central part was a heavenly ball that presented the movement of the heavenly bodies; and its lower part was made up of 117 automatic dolls. Each hour was announced by one of these dolls, which emerged from the five-floor pagoda, hit the gong, rang the bell, or carried a board on which the hour was inscribed. This was the most sophisticated clock in existence in China at that time. Unfortunately, only 39 years after the clock tower was completed, the army of the Jurchens invaded the capital of the Song dynasty, dismantled the clock and transferred it to the dynasty's capital – today Beijing. Sadly, the army could not reassemble the clock due to its complexity.

In 1577 the missionary Matheo Ricci brought European clocks to China for the first time. His hosts were very impressed by the "self-ringing bells", and rumors about this wonder spread throughout China. The emperor was extremely excited by the clock and since then the enthusiasm of the Chinese for clocks has not stopped. In 1736 a monk who was also a manufacturer of clocks reported that the emperor's palace was full of clocks of all kinds.

In present-day China one does not give a clock as a present as it is associated with death.[2]

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(guā)(shú)()(luò)
A melon falls from the stem when it is ripe

Matters are settled when the time is ripe.

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(shí)(dào)(huā)(jiù)(kāi)
When time will come the flower will bloom
One should wait for the right time to do things.





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(xiān)(xià)(shǒu)(wéi)(qiáng)

He who is the first to strike has an advantage

This is used in martial arts, and also means:

It is preferable to be the first to act

In English they say:

The early bird catches the worm

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()(yuè)(shí)()(chī)(yuè)(bǐng)(zhèng)(shì)(shí)(hòu)

Eating moon cakes[1] on the 15th day of the lunar month – exactly the right time
This is said when everything matches up well.


[1]  Moon cakes (yuè)(bǐng)  are round cakes that the Chinese eat during the Mid-Autumn Festival, which is also called the Moon Festival. It is celebrated on the day of the full moon. The round-shaped moon symbolizes family reunion. The family assembles in a circle in the form of the moon and eats moon cakes, without which the celebration is not complete.




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(shī)(luò)(huáng)(jīn)(yǒu)(chù)(zhǎo)(shī)(luò)(guāng)(yīn)()(chù)(xún)
Lost gold – seek it and you will find it somewhere; time lost - though you will seek it, you will not find it anywhere
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(xīn)(chí)()()()(xīn)(lín)()(zhǎng)()
In a new pond there are no big fish; in a new forest there are no big trees
It takes time for things to ripen.
It takes time for things to ripen.

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(shén)(xiān)(nán)(diào)()(shí)()
[Even] gods will find it difficult to fish at noon[1]
Things should be done at the right time.
In the Bible it is written:
לַכּל זמן  ועת לכל חפץ תחת השמים (קהלת ג', 1).
There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven. (Ecclesiastes 3, 1)     
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()(tiě)(chèn)()
Better strike while the iron is hot
Or:
(xíng)(chuán)(chèn)(shùn)(fēng)()(tiě)(chèn)(huǒ)(hóng)
Better sail in a good wind, better strike while the iron is fiery red
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 (shàng)轿(jiào)(zhā)(ěr)(duǒ)(yǎn)(er)
To pierce the ear [of the bride] while [she] is sitting in the sedan chair
Too late.




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. ()()(méi)(yǒu) ()(piě)
Literally: The character [1] -  not [even] one stroke.
There is not even a beginning. Too early. A solution does not seem viable.  
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()(cùn)(guāng)(yīn)()(cùn)(jīn)(cùn)(jīn)(nán)(mǎi)(cùn)(guāng)(yīn)
Literally: One inch of time (from the length of a cast shadow) is worth one inch of gold; [nevertheless], an inch of gold cannot buy an inch of time.
Time is very precious but it cannot be bought.
An English idiom that parallels the first part of this idiom:
 Time is money
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()(dào)(jiāng)(biān)()(tuō)(xié)
Literally: Do not remove your shoes before reaching the riverbank.
Act only when the time is ripe!



[1]The character () (literally: eight) is comprised of two strokes. The left one, which is written in a descending movement, is called (piě).    







[1] ()(shí)  means noontime - between 11:00 a.m. and 1:00 p.m.



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(shén)(xiān)(nán)(diào)()(shí)()
[Even] gods will find it difficult to fish at noon[1]
Things should be done at the right time.
In the Bible it is written:
לַכּל זמן  ועת לכל חפץ תחת השמים (קהלת ג', 1).
There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven. (Ecclesiastes 3, 1)     
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()(tiě)(chèn)()
Better strike while the iron is hot
Or:
(xíng)(chuán)(chèn)(shùn)(fēng)()(tiě)(chèn)(huǒ)(hóng)
Better sail in a good wind, better strike while the iron is fiery red
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 (shàng)轿(jiào)(zhā)(ěr)(duǒ)(yǎn)(er)
To pierce the ear [of the bride] while [she] is sitting in the sedan chair
Too late.


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(shén)(xiān)(nán)(diào)()(shí)()
[Even] gods will find it difficult to fish at noon[1]
Things should be done at the right time.
In the Bible it is written:
לַכּל זמן  ועת לכל חפץ תחת השמים (קהלת ג', 1).
There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven. (Ecclesiastes 3, 1)     
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()(tiě)(chèn)()
Better strike while the iron is hot
Or:
(xíng)(chuán)(chèn)(shùn)(fēng)()(tiě)(chèn)(huǒ)(hóng)
Better sail in a good wind, better strike while the iron is fiery red
*
 (shàng)轿(jiào)(zhā)(ěr)(duǒ)(yǎn)(er)
To pierce the ear [of the bride] while [she] is sitting in the sedan chair
Too late.


[1] ()(shí)  means noontime - between 11:00 a.m. and 1:00 p.m.
[1] ()(shí)  means noontime - between 11:00 a.m. and 1:00 p.m.




[1]  Moon cakes (yuè)(bǐng)  are round cakes that the Chinese eat during the Mid-Autumn Festival, which is also called the Moon Festival. It is celebrated on the day of the full moon. The round-shaped moon symbolizes family reunion. The family assembles in a circle in the form of the moon and eats moon cakes, without which the celebration is not complete.






[1] On time, see also the chapter on the traditional Chinese calendar.
[2] See also the chapter on symbols from the world of objects.

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