Saying your age in China

When people in Austria ask Y how old he is he’ll say he’s 31. When people in South China ask him about his age, he’ll say he’s 32. And when people in Northeast China ask him, he’ll say 33.

So what is true? Does he sometimes lie about his age?

Fact is, he doesn’t. All answers are correct. Let me explain.

For a westerner, Y is 31. We count the age on the exact day of the birthday. Y is 31 and will turn 32 in December.

In most parts of China though, Y is 32. After the Chinese New Year (also called Spring Festival), you add one year to your actual age. What counts is not the exact date of your birthday, but how old you’ll turn this upcoming year.

The same goes for Northeast China and for that matter Korea, just that you’ll add another year. A baby is considered 1 year of age on its day of birth. The 9 months in its mother’s belly count as 1 year.

Confusing? Not anymore!

Have you ever been confused about someone’s actual age? I’d love to read your comments.

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12 thoughts on “Saying your age in China

  1. I will always use ‘western years’, it’s much easier for me. My husband also uses them but when it goes to dates of birth he likes to use lunar calendar, when I asked when his dad has birthday he couldn’t ask me other way then ’15th day of 4th lunar month’ 😀

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  2. I think the easiest is to just say what your Chinese zodiac is, then let the questioner calculate himself. I know that I am a monkey so don’t worry much about either Chinese calculation system.

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      • I agree! People here will sometimes ask your zodiac year too, and more often than not I’m asked which zodiac I am according to Western zodiacs (that way they don’t know how old I am, but young people seem to be interested in Western zodiacs a lot).

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      • that’s interesting! i’ve never been asked my western zodiac, and it’s been a long time since anyone in the city asked my chinese zodiac. they ask my age (without clarification) or ask what year i was born.

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  3. What you write does make sense to us Chinese Malaysians. Here in Malaysia, we too tell our age depending on who asks. We also add one year to our Georgian calender age if it is a Chinese who asks. But if it is a Malay or an Indian friend who asks, we tell our our Georgian age. It is also true that if you tell a Chinese guy your Chinese zodiac sign he can will guess your age. Helpful post.

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  4. Thanks for clearing this up. I’ve been trying to figure this out for several years! I, like your husband, was born in December (but am a year younger than him). I guess when I was just a couple months old I was already two! BTW, I live in Hebei and didn’t realize that the method of determining age was different in other parts of China. Very interesting!

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  5. Pingback: Happy Birthday, everyone – especially Horses! | Tanya's Stories

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