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HandWiki. Traditional Chinese Timekeeping. Encyclopedia. Available online: https://encyclopedia.pub/entry/31901 (accessed on 15 June 2024).

HandWiki. Traditional Chinese Timekeeping. Encyclopedia. Available at: https://encyclopedia.pub/entry/31901. Accessed June 15, 2024.

HandWiki. "Traditional Chinese Timekeeping" *Encyclopedia*, https://encyclopedia.pub/entry/31901 (accessed June 15, 2024).

HandWiki. (2022, October 30). Traditional Chinese Timekeeping. In *Encyclopedia*. https://encyclopedia.pub/entry/31901

HandWiki. "Traditional Chinese Timekeeping." *Encyclopedia*. Web. 30 October, 2022.

Copy Citation

The traditional Chinese time systems refers to the time standards for divisions of the day used in China until the introduction of the Shixian calendar in 1628 at the beginning of the Qing dynasty.

china
time

The third chapter of the Huainanzi outlines 15 hours during daylight. These are dawn (晨明), morning light (朏明), daybreak (旦明), early meal (早食; 蚤食), feast meal (宴食), before noon (隅中), noon (正中), short shadow (少还; 小還), evening (𫗦时; 餔時; 'evening mealtime'), long shadow (大还; 大還), high setting (高舂), lower setting(下舂), sunset (县东; 縣東), twilight (黄昏; 黃昏), rest time (定昏).^{[1]} These are correlated to each hour from 06:00 to 20:00 on the 24-hour clock.

This system used two standards to measure the time in a solar day. Times during daylight were measured in the *Shí-kè* standard, and at night were measured using the *Gēng-diǎn* standard.

Heavenly stems | Earthly branches | ||||||||||
---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|

Stem | Gēng | Branch | Shí (traditional) |
Shí (Song dynasty) |
|||||||

1 | jiǎ | 甲 | 19:12 | yìgēng | 1 | zǐ | 子 | 23:00 | 00:00 | ||

2 | yǐ | 乙 | 21:36 | èrgēng | 2 | chǒu | 丑 | 01:00 | 02:00 | ||

3 | bǐng | 丙 | 00:00 | sāngēng | 3 | yín | 寅 | 03:00 | 04:00 | ||

4 | dīng | 丁 | 02:24 | sìgēng | 4 | mǎo | 卯 | 05:00 | 06:00 | ||

5 | wù | 戊 | 04:48 | wǔgēng | 5 | chén | 辰 | 07:00 | 08:00 | ||

6 | jǐ | 己 | 07:12 | morning | 6 | sì | 巳 | 09:00 | 10:00 | ||

7 | gēng | 庚 | 09:36 | midmorning | 7 | wǔ | 午 | 11:00 | 12:00 | ||

8 | xīn | 辛 | 12:00 | noon | 8 | wèi | 未 | 13:00 | 14:00 | ||

9 | rén | 壬 | 14:24 | late afternoon | 9 | shēn | 申 | 15:00 | 16:00 | ||

10 | guǐ | 癸 | 16:48 | evening | 10 | yǒu | 酉 | 17:00 | 18:00 | ||

11 | xū | 戌 | 19:00 | 20:00 | |||||||

12 | hài | 亥 | 21:00 | 22:00 |

The *Shí-kè* (時 - 刻) system is derived from the position of the sun.

Each *shí* (時; 时) was ^{1}⁄_{12} of the time between one midnight and the next,^{[2]} making it roughly double the modern hour. These dual hours are named after the earthly branches in order, with midnight in the first *shí*. This first *shí* traditionally occurred from 23:00 to 01:00 on the 24-hour clock with midnight in the middle of the first *shí*, but was changed during the Song dynasty so that the first *shí* fell from 00:00 to 02:00 with midnight at the beginning of it.^{[2]}

Starting from the end of the Tang Dynasty into the Song Dynasty, each *shí* was divided into two, with the first half of each *shí* called the initial hour (初) and the second called the central hour (正).^{[2]} Using the change of the midnight hour and the first *shí* above, you could say that during the Song Dynasty midnight went from the central hour of the first *shí* (子正) to the initial hour of the first *shí* (子初).

Days were also divided into smaller units, called *kè* (刻). One *kè* was usually defined as ^{1}⁄_{100} of a day until 1628, though there were short periods before then where days had 96, 108 or 120 *kè*.^{[2]} *Kè* literally means "mark" or "engraving", referring to the marks placed on sundials^{[3]} or water clocks^{[4]} to help keep time.

Using the definition of *kè* as ^{1}⁄_{100} of a day, each *kè* is equal to 0.24 hours, 14.4 minutes, or 14 minutes 24 seconds. Every *shí* will contain 8^{1}⁄_{3} *kè*, with 7 or 8 full *kè* and partial beginning and/or ending *kè*. These fractional *kè* are multiples of ^{1}⁄_{6} *kè*, or 2 minutes 24 seconds.^{[5]} The 7 or 8 full *kè* within each *shí* were referred to as "major *kè*" (大刻). Each ^{1}⁄_{6} of a *kè* was called a "minor *kè*" (小刻).^{[6]}

Both *shí* and *kè* would be used to describe the time accurately. There are two ways of doing this.

- Eight
*kè*mode. Before the Tang dynasty, the*shí*were noted first, then each of the major*kè*were counted up to 8.^{[6]}- As an example, counting by major
*kè*from the first*shí*to the second would look like this:

(子),*zǐ*

(子一刻),*zǐ 1 kè*

(子二刻),*zǐ 2 kè*

(子三刻),*zǐ 3 kè*

(子四刻),*zǐ 4 kè*

(子五刻),*zǐ 5 kè*

(子六刻),*zǐ 6 kè*

(子七刻),*zǐ 7 kè*

(子八刻),*zǐ 8 kè*

. (丑).*chǒu* - Given the time
(戌一刻), this would be read as "1`xū 1 kè`

*kè*after xū*shí*", making the time 20:09:36.

- As an example, counting by major
- Four
*kè*mode. After the Tang dynasty's introduction of "initial" and "central" parts of the*shí*, the*shí*was still noted first, but with an added description of which half of the*shí*the*kè*was taking place in. Since this narrowed the range of the possible major*kè*down to four, it was only necessary to specify the major*kè*between one and four.^{[6]}- This would change our first example above to look like this:
(子初),`zǐ initial`

(子初一刻),`zǐ initial 1 kè`

(子初二刻),`zǐ initial 2 kè`

(子初三刻),`zǐ initial 3 kè`

(子初四刻),`zǐ initial 4 kè`

`zǐ central`

^{[7]}(子正),(子正一刻),`zǐ central 1 kè`

(子正二刻),`zǐ central 2 kè`

(子正三刻),`zǐ central 3 kè`

(子正四刻),`zǐ central 4 kè`

(丑初).`chǒu initial`

- Given the time
(巳正三刻), this would be read as "the third`sì central 3 kè`

*kè*in the second half of*sì*", making the time 11:31:12.

- This would change our first example above to look like this:

*Kè* were subdivided into smaller units, called *fēn* (分). The number of *fēn* in each *kè* varied over the centuries,^{[2]} but a *fēn* was generally defined as ^{1}⁄_{6000} of a day.^{[6]} Using this definition, one *fēn* is equal to 14.4 seconds. This also means that a *fēn* is ^{1}⁄_{60} of a major *kè* and ^{1}⁄_{10} of a minor *kè*.

In 1280, Guo Shoujing's Shòushí Calendar (授时曆) had each *fēn* subdivided into 100 *miǎo* (秒).^{[8]} Using the definition of *fēn* as 14.4 seconds, each *miǎo* was 144 milliseconds long.

Each *fen* was subdivided into *shùn* (瞬), and *shùn* were subdivided into *niàn* (念).

The Mahāsāṃghika, translated into Chinese as the *Móhēsēngzhī Lǜ* (Taishō Tripiṭaka 1425) describes several units of time, including *shùn* or *shùnqǐng* (瞬頃; 'blink moment') and *niàn*. According to this text, *niàn* is the smallest unit of time at 18 milliseconds and a *shùn* is 360 milliseconds.^{[9]} It also describes larger units of time, including a *tánzhǐ* (彈指) which is 7.2 seconds long, a *luóyù* (羅豫) which is 2 minutes 24 seconds long, and a *xūyú* (須臾), which is ^{1}⁄_{30} of a day at 48 minutes long.^{[10]}

The *Gēng-diǎn* (更 - 點) system uses predetermined signals to define the time during the night.

*Gēng* (更) is a time signal given by drum or gong. The drum was sounded by the drum tower in city centers, and by night watchman hitting a gong in other areas. The character for *gēng* 更, literally meaning "rotation" or "watch", comes from the rotation of watchmen sounding these signals.

The first *gēng* theoretically comes at sundown, but was standardized to fall at `yǒu shí central 1 kè`

, or 19:12. The time between each *gēng* is ^{1}⁄_{10} of a day, making a *gēng* 2.4 hours—or 2 hours 24 minutes—long.

The 5 *gēngs* in the night are numbered from one to five: *yì gēng* (一更) (alternately *chū gēng* (初更) for "initial watch"); *èr gēng* (二更); *sān gēng* (三更); *sì gēng* (四更); and *wǔ gēng* (五更). The 5 gēngs in daytime are named after times of day listed in the Book of Sui, which describes the legendary Yellow Emperor dividing the day and night into ten equal parts. They are morning (朝); midmorning, (禺); noon, (中); afternoon (晡); and evening (夕).^{[11]}

As a 10-part system, the *gēng* are strongly associated with the 10 celestial stems, especially since the stems are used to count off the *gēng* during the night in Chinese literature.^{[11]}

Each *diǎn* or point is ^{1}⁄_{60} of a day, making them 0.4 hours, or 24 minutes, long. Every sixth *diǎn* falls on the *gēng*, with the rest evenly dividing every *gēng* into 6 equal parts.

Gēng and diǎn were used together to precisely describe the time at night.

- Counting from the first
*gēng*to the next would look like this:(一更),`yìgēng`

(一更一点; 一更一點),`yìgēng 1 diǎn`

(一更二点; 一更二點),`yìgēng 2 diǎn`

(一更三点; 一更三點),`yìgēng 3 diǎn`

(一更四点; 一更四點),`yìgēng 4 diǎn`

(一更五点; 一更五點),`yìgēng 5 diǎn`

(二更).`èrgēng`

- Given the time
(三更二点; 三更二點), you would read it as "two`sāngēng 2 diǎn`

*diǎn*after*sāngēng*", and find the time to be 00:48.^{[12]}

The night length is inconsistent during a year. The nineteenth volume of the Book of Sui says that at the winter solstice, a day was measured to be 60% night, and at the summer solstice, only 40% night.^{[13]} The official start of night thus had a variation from 0 to 1 *gēng*.

This variation was handled in different ways. From the start of the Western Han dynasty in 206 BC until 102 AD, *yìgēng* was moved back one *kè* every 9th day from the winter solstice to the summer solstice, and moved forward one *kè* every 9th day from summer solstice to the winter solstice.^{[13]} The Xia Calendar (夏历; 夏曆), introduced in 102 AD, added or subtracted a *kè* to the start of night whenever the sun moved 2.5° north or south from its previous position.^{[13]}

Diǎn | 00:00:00 Sāngēng |
00:24:00 Sāngēng 1 diǎn |
00:48:00 Sāngēng 2 diǎn |
01:12:00 Sāngēng 3 diǎn |
01:36:00 Sāngēng 4 diǎn |
02:00:00 Sāngēng 5 diǎn |
02:24:00 Sìgēng |
02:48:00 Sìgēng 1 diǎn |
03:12:00 Sìgēng 2 diǎn |
03:36:00 Sìgēng 3 diǎn |
04:00:00 Sìgēng 4 diǎn |
04:24:00 Sìgēng 5 diǎn |
04:48:00 Wǔgēng |
05:12:00 Wǔgēng 1 diǎn |
05:36:00 Wǔgēng 2 diǎn |
06:00:00 Wǔgēng 3 diǎn |
06:24:00 Wǔgēng 4 diǎn |
06:48:00 Wǔgēng 5 diǎn |
07:12:00 Morning |
07:36:00 Morning 1 diǎn |
08:00:00 Morning 2 diǎn |
08:24:00 Morning 3 diǎn |
08:48:00 Morning 4 diǎn |
09:12:00 Morning 5 diǎn |
09:36:00 Midmorning |
10:00:00 Midmorning 1 diǎn |
10:24:00 Midmorning 2 diǎn |
10:48:00 Midmorning 3 diǎn |
11:12:00 Midmorning 4 diǎn |
11:36:00 Midmorning 5 diǎn |
12:00:00 Noon |
12:24:00 Noon 1 diǎn |
12:48:00 Noon 2 diǎn |
13:12:00 Noon 3 diǎn |
13:36:00 Noon 4 diǎn |
14:00:00 Noon 5 diǎn |
14:24:00 Afternoon |
14:48:00 Afternoon 1 diǎn |
15:12:00 Afternoon 2 diǎn |
15:36:00 Afternoon 3 diǎn |
16:00:00 Afternoon 4 diǎn |
16:24:00 Afternoon 5 diǎn |
16:48:00 Evening |
17:12:00 Evening 1 diǎn |
17:36:00 Evening 2 diǎn |
18:00:00 Evening 3 diǎn |
18:24:00 Evening 4 diǎn |
18:48:00 Evening 5 diǎn |
19:12:00 Yìgēng |
19:36:00 Yìgēng 1 diǎn |
20:00:00 Yìgēng 2 diǎn |
20:24:00 Yìgēng 3 diǎn |
20:48:00 Yìgēng 4 diǎn |
21:12:00 Yìgēng 5 diǎn |
21:36:00 Èrgēng |
22:00:00 Èrgēng 1 diǎn |
22:24:00 Èrgēng 2 diǎn |
22:48:00 Èrgēng 3 diǎn |
23:12:00 Èrgēng 4 diǎn |
23:36:00 Èrgēng 5 diǎn |
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Gēng | 00:00:00 Sāngēng |
02:24:00 Sìgēng |
04:48:00 Wǔgēng |
07:12:00 Morning |
09:36:00 Midmorning |
12:00:00 Noon |
14:24:00 Afternoon |
16:48:00 Evening |
19:12:00 Yìgēng |
21:36:00 Èrgēng |
||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||

Kè (only major kè) | 00:00:00 | 00:14:24 | 00:28:48 | 00:43:12 | 00:57:36 | 01:12:00 | 01:26:24 | 01:40:48 | 01:55:12 | 02:09:36 | 02:24:00 | 02:38:24 | 02:52:48 | 03:07:12 | 03:21:36 | 03:36:00 | 03:50:24 | 04:04:48 | 04:19:12 | 04:33:36 | 04:48:00 | 05:02:24 | 05:16:48 | 05:31:12 | 05:45:36 | 06:00:00 | 06:14:24 | 06:28:48 | 06:43:12 | 06:57:36 | 07:12:00 | 07:26:24 | 07:40:48 | 07:55:12 | 08:09:36 | 08:24:00 | 08:38:24 | 08:52:48 | 09:07:12 | 09:21:36 | 09:36:00 | 09:50:24 | 10:04:48 | 10:19:12 | 10:33:36 | 10:48:00 | 11:02:24 | 11:16:48 | 11:31:12 | 11:45:36 | 12:00:00 | 12:14:24 | 12:28:48 | 12:43:12 | 12:57:36 | 13:12:00 | 13:26:24 | 13:40:48 | 13:55:12 | 14:09:36 | 14:24:00 | 14:38:24 | 14:52:48 | 15:07:12 | 15:21:36 | 15:36:00 | 15:50:24 | 16:04:48 | 16:19:12 | 16:33:36 | 16:48:00 | 17:02:24 | 17:16:48 | 17:31:12 | 17:45:36 | 18:00:00 | 18:14:24 | 18:28:48 | 18:43:12 | 18:57:36 | 19:12:00 | 19:26:24 | 19:40:48 | 19:55:12 | 20:09:36 | 20:24:00 | 20:38:24 | 20:52:48 | 21:07:12 | 21:21:36 | 21:36:00 | 21:50:24 | 22:04:48 | 22:19:12 | 22:33:36 | 22:48:00 | 23:02:24 | 23:16:48 | 23:31:12 | 23:45:36 | ||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||

Shí (post-Tang) | 00:00:00 Zǐ initial |
01:00:00 Zǐ central |
02:00:00 Chǒu initial |
03:00:00 Chǒu central |
04:00:00 Yín initial |
05:00:00 Yín central |
06:00:00 Mǎo initial |
07:00:00 Mǎo central |
08:00:00 Chén initial |
09:00:00 Chén central |
10:00:00 Sì initial |
11:00:00 Sì central |
12:00:00 Wǔ initial |
13:00:00 Wǔ central |
14:00:00 Wèi initial |
15:00:00 Wèi central |
16:00:00 Shēn initial |
17:00:00 Shēn central |
18:00:00 Yǒu initial |
19:00:00 Yǒu central |
20:00:00 Xū initial |
21:00:00 Xū central |
22:00:00 Hài initial |
23:00:00 Hài central |
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Shí (ancient) | 00:00:00 Zǐshí |
01:00:00 Chǒushí |
03:00:00 Yínshí |
05:00:00 Mǎoshí |
07:00:00 Chénshí |
09:00:00 Sìshì |
11:00:00 Wǔshí |
13:00:00 Wèishí |
15:00:00 Shēnshí |
17:00:00 Yǒushí |
19:00:00 Xūshí |
21:00:00 Hàishí |
23:00:00 Zǐshí |

Chinese still uses characters from these systems to describe time, even though China has changed to the UTC standards of hours, minutes, and seconds.

*Shí* is still used to describe the hour. Because of the potential for confusion, *xiǎoshí* (小时; 小時, literally "small hour") is sometimes used for the hour as part of a 24-hour cycle, and *shíchen* (时辰; 時辰) is used for the hour as part of the old 12-hour cycle.

*Diǎn* is also used interchangeably with *shí* for the hour. It can also be used to talk about the time on the hour—for example, 8 o' clock is written as 8 *diǎn* (八点; 八點).

*Fēn* is also used for minutes. To avoid confusion, sometimes the word *fēnzhōng* (分钟; 分鐘, literally "clock minute") is used to clarify that one is talking about modern minutes. The time 09:45 can thus be written as "9 *shí*, 45 *fēn*" (九时四十五分; 九時四十五分) or "9 *diǎn*, 45 *fēn*" (九点四十五分; 九點四十五分).

*Kè* has been defined as ^{1}⁄_{96} of a day since 1628, so the modern *kè* equals 15 minutes and each double hour contains exactly 8 *kè*.^{[2]} Since then, *kè* has been used as shorthand to talk about time in ^{1}⁄_{8} of a double hour or ^{1}⁄_{4} of a single hour. Their usage is similar to using "quarter hour" for 15 minutes or "half an hour" for 30 minutes in English. For example, 6:45 can be written as "6 *diǎn*, 3 *kè*" (六点三刻; 六點三刻).

*Miǎo* is now the standard term for a second. Like *fēn*, it is sometimes written as *miǎozhōng* (秒钟; 秒鐘, literally "clock second") to clarify that someone is talking about modern seconds.

- "Tiānwén xùn". Huainanzi. https://zh.wikisource.org/wiki/%E6%B7%AE%E5%8D%97%E5%AD%90/%E5%A4%A9%E6%96%87%E8%A8%93. "日出于暘谷，浴于咸池，拂于扶桑，是謂晨明。登于扶桑，爰始將行，是謂朏明。至于曲阿，是謂旦明。至于曾泉，是謂蚤食。至于桑野，是謂晏食。至于衡陽，是謂隅中。至于昆吾，是謂正中。至于鳥次，是謂小還。至于悲谷，是謂餔時。至于女紀，是謂大還。至于淵虞，是謂高舂。至于連石，是謂下舂。至于悲泉，爰止其女，爰息其馬，是謂縣車。至于虞淵，是謂黃昏。至于蒙谷，是謂定昏。"
- Sôma, Mitsuru; Kawabata, Kin-aki; Tanikawa, Kiyotaka (2004-10-25). "Units of Time in Ancient China and Japan" (in en). Publications of the Astronomical Society of Japan 56 (5): 887–904. doi:10.1093/pasj/56.5.887. ISSN 0004-6264. Bibcode: 2004PASJ...56..887S. http://pasj.oxfordjournals.org/content/56/5/887.
- Stephenson, F. Richard; Green, David A. (2002). Historical supernovae and their remnants. Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp. 15–16. ISBN 0-19-850766-6.
- Xu Shen, ed. "Volume eleven". Shuowen Jiezi. https://zh.wikisource.org/wiki/%E8%AA%AA%E6%96%87%E8%A7%A3%E5%AD%97/11. "漏：以銅受水，刻節，晝夜百刻。 Translation: The water clock holds the water in the copper pot, and marks the scale on the rule. There are 100 marks which represent a day."
- 600 is the LCM of 100 and 24, so the time between kè and shí scale may be 1⁄6, 1⁄3, 1⁄2, 2⁄3, or 5⁄6 major kè. The 1⁄6 major kè is the common factor
- Gujin Tushu Jicheng. https://zh.wikisource.org/zh/%E6%AC%BD%E5%AE%9A%E5%8F%A4%E4%BB%8A%E5%9C%96%E6%9B%B8%E9%9B%86%E6%88%90/%E6%9B%86%E8%B1%A1%E5%BD%99%E7%B7%A8/%E6%9B%86%E6%B3%95%E5%85%B8/%E7%AC%AC099%E5%8D%B7.
- Note that the beginning of the central hour doesn't occur at the same time as the fourth major kè. The difference between the start of the central hour and the fourth major kè is always between 1 and 5 minor kè.
- Martzloff, Jean-Claude (2000). "Chinese mathematical astronomy". in Selin, Helaine. Mathematics across cultures. Dordrecht: Kluwer. pp. 373–407. ISBN 0-7923-6481-3.
- "Taishō Tripiṭaka 1425". Móhēsēngzhī Lǜ. http://tripitaka.cbeta.org/en/T22n1425_017. "須臾者，二十念名一瞬頃，二十瞬名一彈指，二十彈指名一羅豫，二十羅豫名一須臾。日極長時有十八須臾，夜極短時有十二須臾，夜極長時有十八須臾，日極短時有十二須臾。 Rough translation: Definition of xūyú: 20 niàn is 1 shùnqǐng. 20 shùn is 1 tánzhǐ. 20 tánzhǐ is one luóyù. 20 luóyù is one xūyú. In the longest day there are 18 xūyú, and in the shortest night there are 12 xūyú. In the shortest day there are 12 xūyú and in the longest night there are 18 xūyú."
- This 30-part day is identical to the Hindu muhūrta.
- "Zhì dì 14 tiānwén shàng". Book of Sui. "Water clocks" (漏刻). https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/zh:%E9%9A%8B%E6%9B%B8/%E5%8D%B719. "晝有朝，有禺，有中，有晡，有夕。夜有甲、乙、丙、丁、戊。 Rough translation: Daytime has morning, midmorning, noon, late afternoon, evening. Night has first, second, third, fourth, fifth."
- This assumes that the diǎn haven't moved; or if they have, that sāngēng still falls at exactly midnight.
- Petersen, Jens Østergård (1992). "The Taiping Jing and the A.D. 102 Clepsydra Reform". Acta Orientalia (Copenhagen) 53: 122–158. https://www.academia.edu/12945035/The_Taiping_Jing_%E5%A4%AA%E5%B9%B3%E7%B6%93_and_the_A.D._102_Clepsydra_Reform.

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